Celtics ready to defend title
Boston champions ready for new NBA season as Lakers strengthen their team.
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2008 11:30 GMT

Garnett holds the Larry O'Brien trophy after Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals [GALLO/GETTY] 

One turn at the top of the National Basketball Association (NBA) wasn't going to make Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett forget all those years on the bottom.

And he can't believe that people would think otherwise.

So when Garnett heard the theory that he, and fellow Celtic stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen couldn't possibly be as driven now as they were before finally winning their first NBA title, he wondered if the sceptics had been paying attention all along.

Aiming high

Garnett made it clear: Boston's Big Three, and the rest of their teammates, aren't satisfied with one championship.

Anybody who wants to take the title from the Boston Celtics won't get it without a fight.

Plenty of teams are ready to start one.

Kobe Bryant makes his presence felt [GALLO/GETTY]
Lakers strengthened

League MVP Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have centre Andrew Bynum back to join Pau Gasol in their frontcourt, hoping that will make the difference if they get another shot at the Celtics.

It might not even be good enough to survive the wild, wild Western Conference.

Hornets buzzing

The New Orleans Hornets followed their breakthrough season by signing valuable reserve James Posey away from the Celtics.

San Antonio, Utah, Dallas and Phoenix are all still right there in the power conference.

Tracy McGrady is ready [GALLO/GETTY]
Houston confident

Even Tracy McGrady, who has never won a playoff series, is thinking big now that Ron Artest has joined he and Yao Ming in Houston.

"This is the first time I've felt something really special is going to come out of this season, if we all just put it together and just understand our roles," McGrady said.

Artest's trade from Sacramento could be the most significant change of address among players.

Big switches

Elton Brand (Philadelphia) and Baron Davis (Los Angeles Clippers) are among the other big names who switched cities, as did Kevin Durant, though he did it without changing franchises.

His former Seattle SuperSonics are now the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Coaching changes

In the coaching ranks, Mike D'Antoni brings offensive flair to the New York Knicks, Scott Skiles tries to instil defensive discipline at the Milwaukee Bucks, and Larry Brown seeks to lift a struggling Charlotte Bobcats franchise and his own reputation, which took a hit in his last stop with the Knicks.

The season begins on October 28 in Boston, where the Celtics will raise championship banner No. 17 before playing the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Lakers also are in action that night, hosting the Portland Trail Blazers in what should be Greg Oden's long-awaited NBA debut.

Opening thriller

The opening game is a rematch of a thrilling Eastern Conference semi-final series.

The Celtics won a Game 7 that featured a memorable duel between Pierce and LeBron James, then beat Detroit to reach the NBA finals, where they knocked off the Lakers in six games.

That capped a record-setting, one-year turnaround for the Celtics, who won only 24 games in 2006-07.

They then traded for Allen on draft night, acquired Garnett later in the summer, and rode the three ringless All-Stars to a 66-16 mark.

None of the three had previously reached the finals.

Garnett focused

Even after Garnett collects his championship ring on opening night, he'll be thinking about those disappointments, guaranteeing his trademark intensity won't drop.

"What's motivating me is now saying, 'Wow, I won this and now I've got to count this group of teams that want to take this from us,'" Garnett said.

"And that's even more motivating than not winning in the first round and getting kicked out."

The Cavaliers hope they gave James the help he needs to get past the Celtics with the acquisition of point guard Mo Williams from Milwaukee.

Eastern promise

The team on the rise in the Eastern Conference could be Philadelphia, which
addressed the biggest hole on last season's athletic playoff squad by signing power forward Brand away from the Clippers.

Still, the Celtics should have an easier path back to the finals than the Lakers, who have to endure a conference where Denver went 50-32 last season and managed only the No. 8 seed.

Wild west

The West could be even tougher this time, with Portland adding a potential dominant centre in 2007 No. 1 pick Oden, who had to sit out last season after knee surgery.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson and the Hornets' Byron Scott both said the Blazers could be 10 wins better this season, which would put them into the 50-win category.

Golden State finished ninth last season at 48-34, the best record ever of a non-playoff team under the current format.

That balance puts San Antonio's odd-year win streak in jeopardy.

Andrew Bynum has finally overcome his knee problems [GALLO/GETTY]
Spurs injury

The Spurs won titles in 2003, '05 and '07, but could be staring at a damaging slow start with leading scorer Manu Ginobili out for the first quarter of the season after he re-injured his ankle playing for Argentina in the Olympics.

And when the West is finally settled, the Lakers still may be on top.

Bynum was on the verge of becoming a dominant centre before a season-ending
knee injury in January, and Los Angeles made up for his loss by acquiring Gasol from Memphis.

Now with the two paired together, joining Bryant and a deep bench, the Lakers could have their best team since winning three straight from 2000-02.

Perhaps enough to set up another Celtics-Lakers finals matchup.

Ratings winner

The renewal of the league's greatest rivalry in June was a TV ratings winner, and plenty of people around the NBA wouldn't mind seeing them meet again, as they did three times in four years in the mid-1980s.

"It's really ironic in history, with 30 teams, for it to be the same two teams in the finals," Jackson said, "but we hope we're the ones that are there."

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