Boston Glee Party

Had the Boston Celtics managed to line anybody with a pulse and a decent pull-up jumper next to Paul Pierce last year, the Celts would have waltzed into the super-thin Eastern Conference playoffs. That Boston's front office signed perennial all-star Ray Allen and first-ballot hall of fame forward Kevin Garnett to take off some of Pierce's pressure this season, immediately makes the Celtics an Eastern favorite for the first time in a long time. While not quite the sprite, athletic marvels they once were, KG (31 years old), Ray Ray (32) and The Truth (30) are still super and should certainly strike fear into the league—especially after looking at how well they harmonized over the preseason.

Of course, the Celts aren't the only ones who brought in some new life over the summer. Orlando (Rashard Lewis), Phoenix (Grant Hill), the New York Knicks (Zach Randolph) and Seattle (Kevin Durant) have all made changes. Still, will any of it much matter when squads are paired against defending champ San Antonio in the postseason?

THE EAST

  1. Detroit- The nucleus (Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton) is as good as any. It's that sensitive time bomb (Rasheed Wallace) that could potentially explode at any blown whistle we're worried about.
  2. Boston- The new trio could be called the Big Three 2.0, an obvious nod to Celt icons Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale. The difference is that those title teams had Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson on them as well.
  3. Chicago- MJ is not walking thru that door, but thankfully, current stars (Ben Wallace, Kirk Hinrich), future stars (Ben Gordon, Luol Deng) and international stars (Andres Nocioni) are.
  4. Orlando- Though the East's most dominant interior presence, Dwight Howard, is built like a world-class weightlifter, adding Lewis' 20 points per game certainly helps lift the offensive burden.
  5. Miami- If someone could guarantee Dwyane Wade and Shaq's health for 90% of the season, the Heat would easily rise near the top of this list. But seeing as how they're day-to-day like 90% of the people reading this, Miami's staying put.
  6. New Jersey- The Tattered Nets Club (oft-injured Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson) may have another member, Nenad Krstic. If it can avoid the training room, however, NJ should be OK.
  7. Cleveland- We hate calling the Cavs' inspired playoff run a fluke because we appreciate great LeBron James highlights and good D like everyone else, but that's exactly what it was.
  8. Atlanta- Don't look now, but the Hawks' preseason record was 6-1. Even more promising was the way Josh Smith and Joe Johnson looked as leaders, Marvin Williams looked with the ball and Al Horford looked as a rookie.
  9. Toronto- Chris Bosh is on pace for a Garnett-like career. But unlike Big Ticket's Minnesota days, CB4 has some offensive help (Andrea Bargnani, T.J. Ford) and smart coaching (Sam Mitchell) to assist along the way.
  10. Washington- If Gilbert Arenas says he's gonna score 40, he generally backs the talk up with 43. So, we're taking his word that his knee feels 100%. The eccentric guard hasn't uttered a peep about the team's problem at center. Neither will we.
  11. New York- What a bizarre offseason for the Knicks. First, you have Stephon Marbury's outbursts. Then there's coach Isiah Thomas' sexual harassment case. Randolph's game could give the NY media something else to write about.
  12. Milwaukee- If you like sweet strokes, you gotta love Michael Redd. If you're into tough breaks, your heart goes out to hard-working Charlie Villanueva, a forward who's likely lost his starting role to Chinese import Yi Jianlian.
  13. Charlotte- Sean May and Adam Morrison's seasons ended before they even started. To prevent a similar fate for the entire team, ex-Warrior Jason Richardson must play at an all-star level. Emeka Okafor has to stay off the disabled list.
  14. Indiana- Jermaine O'Neal insists he's happy in Indy. New head coach Jim O'Brien insists his new playbook will work. Pacers fans, we insist you focus on the Hoosiers this season.
  15. Philadelphia- With the original A.I. in the Rocky Mountains, the super-gifted Andre Iguodala must put the faceless Sixers on his back if they're to climb back to respectability in the Atlantic Division.

THE WEST

  1. Phoenix- Though clichéd, anything short of the NBA Finals would be a disappointment. No prob. A hyper Steve Nash, heated Shawn Marion and healthy Amare Stoudamire will make Hill's first year in the desert memorable.
  2. San Antonio- 10 players on the roster of the NBA champ Spurs are over 30. If Tim Duncan, Mike Finley and Tony Parker (who's an astute 25) keep balling like they have, who really cares what brand of dentures they use?
  3. Dallas- We can't put a finger on it, but we're thinking the Mavs' best days are behind them. Sure, Dirk Nowitzki is a handful. And yeah, we love Devin Harris as the full-time point man. But Dallas can't touch the Suns or Spurs right now.
  4. Denver- Still getting used to seeing Allen Iverson in a Nuggets jersey, right? If Carmelo Anthony and a healthy Kenyon Martin and Nene keep elevating their games, get used to seeing Denver near the top of the West as well.
  5. Houston- You know Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are the guys who fuel things in H-town. What you might not be aware of is that there's another Rocket, Argentina's Luis Scolia, who's on the verge of taking off.
  6. Sacramento- On paper, the Kings lineup (Mike Bibby, Ron Artest, Brad Miller) should be making headlines across the NBA. But we all know what a good-looking lineup and 50 cents gets ya— a copy of the morning Sacramento Bee.
  7. Utah- Catch the flick Eastern Promises? Well, us neither. But if there's anything to learn from the trailers it's that you don't mess with irritated Europeans. Trust, trade-seeking Andrei Kirilenko and respect-looking Mehmet Okur are quite perturbed.
  8. Los Angeles Lakers- The never-ending drama that is the Lakers locker room was renewed for another season. Kobe Bryant, of course, will get the most face time. Andrew Bynum will see more cameras. Rookie Javaris Crittenton should cameo.
  9. Golden State- Don't think the stirring ride the Warriors took us on last spring was a joke. Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis are dead serious about contending in the Pacific again. Matt Barnes and rookie Brandan Wright still believe, too.
  10. Memphis- The Hawks of the West—and we mean that in a good way. With proven talent (Pau Gasol, Mike Miller) and untapped potential (Rudy Gay, Mike Conley) abound, the Grizz might prove the sleeper of the conference.
  11. New Orleans- The Saints' Reggie Bush gets all of the headlines even though it could be argued that Hornet Chris Paul is the more valuable player in the Crescent City. He'll further prove his worth by making this so-so bunch competitive.
  12. Minnesota- You know how everything about that Caveman show exudes disaster? Well, this revamped squad (Gerald Green, Al Jefferson and Corey Brewer excluded) is in a similarly hairy spot. KG's absence will take ages to get over.
  13. Portland- Greg Oden's season-killing injury sucks. Lamarcus Aldridge's nagging aches hurt. A pain-free Brandon Roy is a monster. Martell Webster's growth is scary. In a year, this team goes for blood in the postseason.
  14. Los Angeles Clippers- At tragic times like these (Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston are likely out til Feb/March), one has to accentuate the positive. Beyond the underrated Al Thornton, however, the Clips don't have any.
  15. Seattle- This might be the only year the Pacific Northwest is blessed with wunderkind Kevin Durant's presence, as the Sonics appear headed for Oklahoma City. It just bites that the team's last season also has to be one of its worst.

NBA Finals: Phoenix over Detroit, 4-2