- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The number of "experts" who think the Celtics can hoist banner No. 18 this season roughly approximates the number of people who believe in -- spoiler alert -- the tooth fairy.
Nothing, it seems, can change the unshakable hold the Miami Heat have on the hearts, minds and wallets of NBA fans, commentators and bloviators. Sports Illustrated picked the Heat to meet the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Las Vegas Insider listed the Heat as 8-5 odds to win the title, while the Celtics and Orlando Magic were 8-1. (The Lakers were 7-2.)
ESPN.com's panel of NBA experts gave the Celtics no love. Eight of the 10 gents didn't even think the Celtics would finish among the top two in the Eastern Conference. None of the 10 picked them to win the East. ESPN The Magazine picked the Celtics as No. 2 in the East behind You Know Who.
If 2007-08 was the season of ubuntu, maybe 2010-11 should be the season of Aretha Franklin. R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Find out what it means to KG.
"I'm just one individual," the Celtics' Kevin Garnett said a few days before Tuesday night's epic opener against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Miami Heat. "But [Miami's Big Three] didn't do much for me. It's good to see guys make decisions based on what they want for themselves. Personally, it's good for competition -- and no more than that. If you ask other guys, I'm sure they'll have different opinions."
The "other guys" are pretty much everyone else not associated with the Celtics -- or, for that matter, the Orlando Magic, who also can make a pretty strong case for getting overlooked and overwhelmed by the Heat train. The Celtics, after all, were the ones who came within a few minutes of winning it all last season after knocking out the Wade-led Heat in the first round and the LeBron-led Cavaliers in the second round.
The Celtics loaded up during the summer to submit a roster to NBA headquarters that is as deep as anything they've had since their glory days crew in 1985-86. They are much better and deeper than Miami at, arguably, the two most important positions: center and point guard (although LeBron is the de facto point guard on Miami, even if someone else will play the position). When Kendrick Perkins returns, they will have four players capable of manning the middle, and that doesn't include Glen Davis. (It does include rookie Semih Erden, who already has done the most important thing a rookie big man can do: listen to Garnett.)
But none of this apparently matters. And for Heat overload, all you have to do is look at our four letters -- ESPN. As a network, we have embraced the new-look Heat more than anyone.
Our network aired "The Decision," in which James famously announced his intention to bring his talents to South Beach. Then, we aired "SportsCenter" from the Heat's training camp site and followed that with a Heat Index spot on our NBA page.
Never mind that Miami has never won a regular-season game with this crew and that only two players, Wade and Udonis Haslem, are still left from the Heat's 2006 title team. Never mind that they are woefully undermanned at center, a position that gets more and more critical in the postseason, when the game tends to slow down. The last team to win without a real presence in the middle: the 1998 Bulls, with apologies to Luc Longley. (The 2004 Pistons had a defensive presence in the middle in Ben Wallace.)
For the Celtics, they'd just as soon the cameras stayed right where they are. They went through this hype to a lesser extent in 2007. Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all showed up in uniform for an ESPN commercial. The three were on the cover of almost every NBA preview issue -- then went out and won 66 games in the 2007-08 regular season and, more importantly, 16 more in the postseason.
All through that remarkable season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was careful to point out that his team had done nothing. When the Pistons were on the agenda, it was always, "They've been where we want to go." The Celtics ended up getting to where they wanted to go and have been trying to get back there ever since.
Now, Rivers has the best team he has had since he arrived in 2004. Hey, he has the best team anyone in Boston has had in 25 years. It is a substantial upgrade over last season. But in the battle of the hype, the Celtics are coming out a distant second (or maybe even third) behind the newly minted, putative 2011 NBA champs from South Beach.
"Once LeBron took his talents to South Beach, I think everyone got excited," Rivers said. "They've formed a superteam in a lot of ways. ... But we'll be ready."
Asked how he felt about the Heat getting all the attention and whether it was a sign of disrespect, Rivers said, "it's not a problem. We have to earn it."
Miami has its own Big Three (or, as Shaq clarifies, a Big Two). It's a great team on paper. But the October mantra for the Celtics has been taking care of business (or, as Aretha noted, TCB), and they feel quite confident that they can and will beat the Heat where it counts (on the court) and when it counts (in May).
Off the court, there's nothing they can do about the landslide of love going Miami's way now.
"You only worry about the corporation you run," Shaq said. "I'm sure Steve Jobs isn't worried about what Microsoft is doing. Right? You feel me?"
The only downside to all this is we won't know the answer for seven more months. Until then, it's all Heat, all the time, which is just fine with the folks in Boston. They'll simply try to walk the walk amid all the cackle and din.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
59mMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo
4dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer