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Congratulations to the Boston Celtics on winning an NBA championship in 2007-08. Will they be the team to beat again in '08-09?
We don't know yet, but I don't really think so.
They will obviously be a great team. They won a championship last year, and they have everyone returning except James Posey. (Personally, I think they should have picked up Maurice Evans to replace him.)
The Celtics will still be a fantastic team, but the Big Three are now one year older and slower—although I still think they have a few more competitive years in them yet.
Here's a list of teams that I think have a great shot at being the team to beat in the NBA this season, in order of who I think will be the best:
1. Boston Celtics
Despite losing Posey and the Big Three's hunger for that first championship, you know that they will still do well. I wouldn't have them ranked this high if they were in the Western Conference, but in the East they are still number one.
You can't expect them to drop far in the standings as long as they have Allen, Pierce—and most importantly, Garnett.
Garnett is one of the best players to ever play the game, and did not show any hint of slowing down last season. Pierce is a lifelong Celtic who can grind out clutch wins and is one of the best in the league in creating his own shot, And Allen, despite some inconsistency in the playoffs, still has one of the best shots in the game.
Another reason they are up here is young developing point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo has shown many signs of improvement in his first two seasons in the league, especially in his mid-range jumper. It's still not great but it has gotten a lot better from year one to two.
This will be his third year in the league. He is already one of the premier defensive guards in the league, and he looks as if he will only get better.
2. Orlando Magic
Two words, one name: Dwight Howard.
Howard is a monster, and will lead this team to be one of the best in the league next season. Last year, Howard carried the Magic to the third seed in the East and Round Two of the playoffs.
The Magic gained some very useful playoff experience last season, and they look as if they will only get better in '08-'09.
They lost shooting guard Maurice Evans to free agency, but got a better replacement in Michael Pietrus. Pietrus is a great, young, high-flying guard who has some playoff experience with the Golden State Warriors. He should add some more firepower to this already explosive team.
Rashard Lewis looks to bounce back after a slightly under-achieving season, and Hedo Turkoglu looks as if he will keep on improving after his breakout year. Young guard Jameer Nelson also looks as though he will improve on his very good season with the Magic last year.
This will create a starting lineup of Nelson and Pietrus as guards, with a very big corps of forwards and posts in Lewis, Turkoglu, and Howard.
3. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors obviously wouldn't be able to finish third, considering they are in the same division as the Celtics. So the Pistons will still finish third in the East, but will have a worse record than both the Raptors and the Sixers.
With O'Neal and Bosh in the middle, the Raptors should do great. Every time Bosh got the ball down low last season he would immediately get double-teamed. With O'Neal helping out on the low block, he creates space for Bosh to get to the hoop one-on-one. And if Bosh still gets double-teamed, it creates a wide-open Jermaine O'Neal.
Add in ball control point guard Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker in the middle of his prime, future starts Jamario Moon, and Andrea Bargnani, and the Raptors should do great!
Honorable Mentions: Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers.