If Boston's rather improbable run to the cusp of a world title last season taught our panel of experts anything it's this: Don't bet against the Celtics.
Unfortunately, that's led to a bunch of bloggers who can't hedge their bets enough when predicting what the future holds for Boston's basketball team. For the third installment in our Celtics Summer Forecast series, we asked our panel of 18 experts from eight popular Celtics blogs to predict how the Celtics' 2010-11 season will end.
Several of our experts were hesitant to put anything past the Green. Maybe North Station Sports' Nick Gelso summed it up best: "Now this is a tough one. I am taking the safe route here: If healthy, the Celtics can beat anyone in the Eastern Conference."
He wasn't alone. Half of our panel hedged their bets in one way or another, many suggesting that the Celtics would meet the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and tossing their arms up from there.
Even in a bulked-up East, where the Miami Heat were dubbed the landslide favorite to steal Boston's crown by ESPN.com's panel of 93 experts in the national Summer Forecast, our panel is skittish to suggest Boston can't get back to the NBA Finals.
As CelticsBlog's Jimmy Toscano wrote, "We saw a completely different team in the playoffs last season than we saw in the regular season, so if that same intensity returns for the playoffs this season, the Celtics could absolutely be your NBA Finals champs."
But will they?
Seven of our experts predicted a return to the NBA Finals. Not one writer pegged this team to succumb any sooner than the Eastern Conference finals, while nearly everyone suggested a showdown with Miami for the conference crown.
Here are the various takes on how Boston's season will end.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston (Win NBA Finals)
Let's talk windows: After being given a three-year window of opportunity when the Big Three assembled, one it parlayed into two trips to the NBA Finals, the Celtics pried that window open for at least one more season by reuniting its core this offseason. Meanwhile, down in Miami, they've got lofty expectations, but they've also got at least a six-year window to operate under. Falling short of a world title this season would be no great crime for the SuperFriends. In the end, we see it coming down to motivation. This is it for Boston; this is why they got the band back together. There are no guarantees beyond this season, and a team that feels like it let a title slip away finds a way to atone. Yes, health will be the key yet again. Even if the Celtics get past the Heat, there's no guarantee they can take down the Lakers (no hedging of bets here, either; the Lakers romp the West again). But this one reeks of storybook ending, with Shaquille O'Neal helping the revenge tour then reminding Kobe Bryant that they both have the same amount of rings as Boston celebrates Banner 18.
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Lose NBA Finals)
Continuity. I'm a big believer in it as far as the NBA goes. You take a look at the teams that have made the NBA Finals in the last 20 years and the vast majority have been seasoned squads -- units that have played together for years; players who know each other inside and out, their strengths and flaws, where they will be on the floor, where they like to catch the ball and everything in between. You can't buy that kind of knowledge in free agency and it's the biggest edge the Celtics will have over their competition next year, one that will ultimately lead them to the NBA Finals. The Miami Heat obviously have more talent, and they will get their championship(s) down the road, but next year will be a learning experience once the playoffs roll around and they will fall short against the Celtics. An improved offense, more depth, and a deep sense of urgency will be enough to get Boston back to the promised land -- where they will come up empty against the West once again.
Chuck McKenney, Red's Army (Conference Finals)
Boston will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, at the very least. By replacing Matt Barnes with Quentin Richardson, I don't see how Orlando will be able to beat Boston in a seven-game series in the conference semifinals. The Heat will advance to the conference championship and face Boston in an epic series. Who wins? I have no idea.
Greg Payne, CelticsBlog (Win NBA Finals)
The Celtics will win the 2011 NBA title largely due to the moves they made this offseason. A lack of front-court depth hindered Boston throughout the most recent postseason, and it was exploited most heavily against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. However, with the additions of Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal, the Celtics added the length and bulk that will be a necessity against all of the league's top-tier teams this season. I'm still a believer that the Celtics are the best team in basketball, in terms of the quality they possess at each position, and they still have one of the most balanced units in the league, with players who complement each other very well. The Celtics' depth up front is more than enough to compete with the Orlando Magic, the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Milwaukee Bucks (who all have quality front lines), something that will prove to be Boston's key advantage over Miami (the Heat do not have a quality front line) in the Eastern Conference. If the Celtics and Lakers do meet in the Finals once again, the Celtics will now have the length they need up front to vanquish L.A. and prevent it from winning a third straight title.
Jay King, CelticsTown (Conference Finals)
I want to say the Celtics will win a championship, desperately. I really, really, REALLY do. I just don't think it's happening. I'm drinking the Miami Kool-Aid for now. The Heat will beat the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. (Banging head against the wall ... Repeating head bang.) Can I swear on ESPN.com? No? Well, I guess I'll just have to settle for an emphatic, "Rats!"
Brandon Paul, Gino's Jungle (Win NBA Finals)
This is a very tough question to answer because we don't know how the Celtics are going to come together. Although they have the same core group of players, quite a bit has changed. If the new additions (Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, and the rookies) end up meshing well, the sky is the limit for this team.
Lee Herman, North Station Sports (Win NBA Finals)
After earning the fourth seed, Boston will face the Bucks in my postseason seeding, and will advance to take on the Heat in a conference semifinal matchup that will be largely dependent on the health of the Celtics heading into an enormous series against two of the star players they knocked out of the playoffs last year. I see Boston getting back to the NBA Finals if they can put away the Heat.
Justin Poulin, Celtics Stuff Live (Conference Finals)
The Celtics will make the Eastern Conference Finals. I have no idea from there. Provided they are capable of managing the minutes of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to keep both healthy for the playoffs, the depth on this squad should stand the test of time. Even if either Shaquille O'Neal or Kendrick Perkins was unavailable for the playoffs, the Celtics could still call Rasheed Wallace out of retirement.
Dustin Chapman, Celtics 24/7 (Conference Finals)
Some of this depends on how soon the SuperFriends figure it all out, which could happen immediately (see also: 2007-2008 Boston Celtics). However, as Doc Rivers has stated and drilled into his team, it's not about what other teams do. As long as the Celtics are healthy, trust one another, and execute in the postseason, they have as good a shot to claim a banner as anyone. Barring injury, the Celtics should compete for the Eastern Conference title. Once you get that deep, anything is possible.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.