Celtics rely on proven champs

The NBA season is upon us tonight with the defending champions Boston Celtics taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the other matches Milwaukee take on a revamped Chicago Bulls team while the Trailblazers face the Lakers.

Looking over all the major moves that occurred over the off-season it’s clear that both conferences will be tight and deep in talent.

In the Eastern Conference the Boston Celtics have done little to tamper with the squad. With an NBA title under their belt and one of the league’s best trios in Garnett, Pierce and Allen it makes sense to leave well enough alone.

Boston have a solid starting line-up and a versatile bench which should make them the team to beat in the East and the NBA.

Detroit still have a starting line-up in place that plays well on both sides of the ball. Hamilton and Billups are still two of the best in the league and the bench looks good, especially with Stuckey and Maxiell in place.

I’m not sure about Curry captaining the ship but all he has to do is let it run itself for the Pistons to be playoff-bound.

Cleveland getting Mo Williams in the off-season looks good. He may not be the ‘Robin’ that people think ‘Batman’ – aka LeBron James – needs but he gives defenses some one else to think about. Cleveland have some pieces to work with and that will be enough for them to be a dangerous squad.

Philadephia have all of a sudden become a serious threat in the East. Armed with a legitimate force in Elton Brand the team looks like a top five squad for sure. Iguodala’s maturity is a question mark but if Miller gets the offense rolling then the squad should make the playoffs.

Orlando were a solid team that fed off Howard causing havoc in the middle while Lewis and Turkoglu burned teams on the perimeter.

This season should see more of the same. Look for Howard’s health to be critical and the club’s fortunes to rest on their backcourt.

Toronto are a team that still has much to prove. Even with another playoff appearance questions still abound about their defense. Then again Bosh and O’Neal (if healthy) will be a force in the middle and Calderon has the tools to be a leader.

They don’t have everything needed to go deep in the post season but should have the offense to get there this year.

When healthy, Washington is a good squad that can play with anyone. Arenas, Jamison and Butler are great players on both ends of the court.

But all are injury-prone with many squad members battling injuries. The nucleus of the team can produce another winning year but their team health will decide whether they’re playoff-bound or not.

Atlanta are an interesting team. They just got into the playoffs last year and nearly took down the eventual champions. They’re young, athletic and can hold their own on offense and defense. The loss of Childress is a non-factor though the play of Williams and Horford is key.

Look for rebuilding clubs like the Bucks and Bulls to have a say in the playoff conversation. Their records won’t be great but both clubs have the talent to play into late April.

The Western Conference was unbelievably deep last year and this time around should be the same.

The Lakers defied the odds and emerged on top with good passing and teamwork on both sides of the ball.

Bryant is obviously the heart of the team and the play of star sidekicks Gasol and Odom plus a healthy Bynum should make LA the team to beat.

The Spurs are an aging team with injuries and fatigue being huge in their late-playoff collapse. Ginobuli is coming back with Parker and Duncan being rested so the Spurs should be a good team again. Time will tell if their age will catch up to them against younger, albeit less-disciplined teams.

New Orleans proved they could play well behind Paul and West. This season should be no different. Chandler and the bench will have a big role but maturity and discipline on the offensive end will be the deciding factors.

Houston are a good club and is tough to beat when T-Mac and Yao are healthy. With Aldeman inspiring the bench, Alston playing well and a two-way threat in Artest in the mix the sky is the limit for the Rockets and their season. They can contend with LA but chemistry will be key.

Today’s Jazz have some resemblance to the Jazz of yesteryears. Stockton, Malone and Hornacek may be gone but Williams, Boozer and Kirilenko are in their place. Utah should be playoff-bound again though their role players will decide how good they are.

In spite of Howard’s up and down play and changes made by Cuban, Dallas are fundamentally good. Dirk still plays like an MVP, Kidd can still pass and they can shut down clubs on occasion. The Mavericks should be playoff-bound but nothing near a power.

Denver still have one of the most exciting and explosive offenses lead by Melo and AI. But their defense remains their Achilles heel. They should be in the playoff conversation but don’t expect much when they get in.

Doubts abound about Phoenix and with good reason. Nash is undoubtedly one the league’s best though age and injuries are catching up to him. With Shaq and Stoudemire clogging the middle and the role players’ effectiveness being erratic it’s uncertain they can still run and gun teams down into late April.

Portland is a team with a lot of promise. Roy, Aldridge and company showed they could play and having Oden and Fernandez in the fold will help. How fast they gel and mature will decide if a winning season is in the cards.

In the end the NBA should see a lot of balanced teams and exciting games. Fans will have plenty of reasons to watch the games and see who’s on top in the regular and post season.