The defending champs are still the best team in the Eastern Conference, and I'm not buying the talk that they'll lack hunger to win a second title. On the contrary, the understanding and chemistry among their three stars should be stronger than last year, as should the confidence of point guard
The reason I'm not picking the Celtics to repeat is that they are neither so big nor nasty this season. An intimidating component of last year's team was the size and hostility of their defense in the paint. During the playoffs, anyone driving into the lane had to deal with two or more of the following:
I'm guessing the Celtics will eventually acquire a veteran or two to replace Brown or Posey. But will the newcomer(s) be as effective? As it stands now, this is a smaller and younger team around the stars. The
Can the Celtics win another title? Absolutely. But they'll be playing to a different style. Will they glide through the season as easily as they did a year ago? Maybe. How many teams are able to avoid bad luck with injuries or other crises for two years in a row?
The Spurs have big questions of their own, starting with
It won't carry the historical drama of a Lakers-Celtics rematch, but if both teams are healthy, then this will be a dream Finals for basketball fans featuring three Hall of Fame players per team. I'm envisioning a Game 7 win for San Antonio, which is to say that these teams are too close to call. It's a coin flip to be influenced by injuries and other events over the next seven months that are beyond prediction. But right now, with (perhaps too much) faith in Ginobili's rehab, I view the Spurs as the team to beat this year.
They were a surprise finalist last season despite their youth and center
But the Lakers remain a young team off the bench, even if
The other issue for the Lakers is that they still don't have a No. 2 star to pair with
Apply the argument of the previous paragraph to New Orleans as well. History says that
This is one team that could win it. (I predicted that they would finish with the West's second-best record behind the Lakers.) Their stars are unreliable --
They lack intimidating size up front around
Dallas signed a coach in
The Suns have a lot of talent, but at their advanced ages can they be weaned off
The Cavaliers are my No. 2 team in the East because they should start the year without the issues that hurt them early last season, when
The Pistons should be right back in the mix. Coach