Boston Celtics: 3 Reasons Why They're Falling in the Eastern Conference

James Ermilio@jimmyermilioCorrespondent IIIAugust 20, 2012

Boston Celtics: 3 Reasons Why They're Falling in the Eastern Conference

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    The Boston Celtics' strong offseason may not be enough to save them from an early out in the playoffs next year.

    Though the C's acquired guards Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and brought back SF Jeff Green and C Chris Wilcox for added depth, the rest of the Eastern Conference improved dramatically.  The road back to the Eastern Conference finals (where the Celtics lost in seven games last season) will be far more difficult this year.  

    The Atlantic Division has gotten much better, to the point that it may now be the most competitive division in the league.  Healthy Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks teams have the firepower to challenge the Celtics in a seven-game series.  The Chicago Bulls will likely get Derrick Rose back at some point this season, placing them back at the top of the pack as competitors in the East. 

    All this without mentioning the preeminent threat in the Eastern Conference, the defending champion Miami Heat.

    Let's take a look at three reasons why the Celtics face an uphill battle if they hope to represent the East in the NBA Finals.

1) They Have No Answer for Andrew Bynum

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    The Dwight Howard trade was a double whammy for Celtics fans. 

    Not only did their most hated rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, acquire the best center in basketball, they also traded their own All-Star big man, Andrew Bynum, to the C's divisional foe, the Philadelphia 76ers.  

    Bynum is both an elite rebounder and one of the few remaining big men in the league with offensive skills in the post.  He averaged a double-double in the 2011-12 regular season (18.7 points, 11.1 rebounds on efficient 56 percent shooting) and stayed healthy for the first time in his career.

    He'll be the offensive centerpiece of the Sixers, and with shooters like Jason Richardson, Jrue Holiday, and Nick Young (all better than 36 percent from beyond the arc) on his side, Bynum will have the kind of space he never enjoyed with Ramon Sessions and Metta World Peace on the floor.

    The Celtics can counter Bynum's touch on the low post with an elite defender in PF Kevin Garnett, but Bynum has nearly 30 pounds on KG and can wear him down on the block over a long series.  

    With Bynum and a young athletic roster that includes swingman Evan Turner, the Sixers can run on the Celtics and battle them in the halfcourt set. Expect some tough battles next year between these two storied rivals.  

2) Their Core Is Past Their Prime

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    Yes, it's true that the Celtics' best players (besides PG Rajon Rondo) were on the back-nine of their career last season, and they still came within a quarter of a Finals appearance.  

    But this year, they won't have the benefit of a lockout-shortened season to lop sixteen games off their schedule.  Last season, with the 66-game schedule (and Coach Doc Rivers' expert management of minutes during back-to-back-to-back games), they were able to keep Garnett and SF Paul Pierce healthy all year (until Pierce sprained his MCL during the stretch run).  

    In 2012, with a deeper Eastern Conference and a full 82-game schedule, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to keep the 35-year-old Pierce and the 36-year-old Garnett at the top of their game during the playoffs.  

    Thankfully for the Celtics, their newfound backcourt depth will provide them with some scoring off the bench, but the lack of frontcourt options will make them overly reliant of the progression of rookie forward Jared Sullinger and the continued health of KG.

    Hopefully for fans of the Green, luck will stay on their side when it comes to the health of their best players. 

3) It Will Be a Grind to Get Through the Atlantic Division

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    Since the advent of the Big Three in Boston, the Atlantic Division's has been theirs to lose.

    This year, that may no longer be the case.

    The Sixers' acquisition of Andrew Bynum was just one of the major moves by teams within the division this offseason.  The Brooklyn Nets acquired former Celtics swingman Joe Johnson and retained PG Deron Williams, PF Gerald Wallace and C Brook Lopez to form their new "Core Four."  

    Meanwhile, the New York Knicks lost PG Jeremy Lin, but added Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd to replenish their backcourt, and beefed up their frontcourt by signing C Marcus Camby.  

    Even the struggling Toronto Raptors added PG Kyle Lowry.

    With a division that now boasts four potential playoff teams, the Celtics can no longer coast to a top-four seed in the Conference.