Strange as it may seem, this time last year, the Celtics were a big question mark. An intriguing one, sure, but nobody knew exactly what to expect -- Could a team's fortunes really turn around that quickly? Would the "Big Three" hold up over an 82-game season? Could they hang with the best of the Eastern Conference, to say nothing of the big boys out West? Is Rajon Rondo really going to be able to run this show? And can this much talent overcome bad coaching?
As you know by now, the answer to all of these questions was a resounding "yes," as the Celtics went from being one of the worst teams in the league to winning their NBA-record 17th title. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen missed a few games here and there, but stayed mostly healthy along the way. Rajon Rondo emerged as a legit NBA point guard, and Doc Rivers outcoached no less than Phil Jackson in the NBA Finals. They'll raise the banner and receive their rings before tonight's game against LeBron and the Cavs.
The Celtics this year, then, will have the pressure of expectations - most experts believe them to be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference again, if not repeat as champions. Hard to figure the pressure will get to them, either - Garnett certainly would seem to relish such a challenge. If anything, really, this team - on paper, at least - probably has a better shot to at least win the Eastern Conference than last year's version, even if it's by default. Their main rivals, the Pistons, figure to regress a tad as Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups get a year older and they break in a new coach. The Magic have a great top four, but they're a little top-heavy - ditto Toronto, who are taking a chance on Jermaine O'Neal. Philadelphia has an intriguing roster, but an unproven one.
So that leaves Cleveland, tonight's opponent, who have probably given LeBron James his best supporting cast so far. So it's not exactly going to be a cake walk. Tonight's game should be the first of many fun battles between these two - here's hoping anyway, because we're pretty bored with Detroit.