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Over/Under: 57 Wins

As you probably noticed, ESPN’s group of 53 NBA experts predicted win totals for every Eastern Conference team today. The average Celtics win total: 57.

All of us at CelticsHub decided to set 57 as an unofficial over/under and make our predictions.

I’ll go first and take the under. But not by much. I was penciling in win totals for all 30 teams on a spreadsheet the other day and settled on exactly 57 for Boston. So I’ll count that as taking the under, since I have a feeling Brian and Brendan—and many of you—would happily take the over and be confident in winning a chunk of my massive journalism income.

I’ll admit—57-25 seems low for a team that was 44-11 when Kevin Garnett suffered a knee injury in Utah in late February. At that point, the C’s were on pace to win between 65 and 66 games despite a holiday season swoon that had us all panicking. If KG’s healthy this season, it seems academic that the C’s will blow past 57 wins with the additions of Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels.

I’m not so sure, and here are my reasons, in brief:

• The Celtics were 11-0 last season against Toronto, Washington and Atlanta. I would not expect that to happen again. ESPN’s 53 experts have (on average) the 15 Eastern Conference teams winning 620 games next season—exactly one win fewer than the 621 they earned last season. So they’re projecting the conference to be just as good despite predicting that Cleveland, Boston and Orlando will win a combined 13 fewer games in 2010 than they did last season.

In other words: the middle of the conference is better. The bottom is still putrid—and probably even more putrid than last season considering the state of the Bucks and Nets—but Toronto and Washington are going to be tough places to play in 2010.

• Health and age uncertainties. We all know the issues here.

• I have a feeling—and it is based on no inside knowledge at all—that the Celtics will not approach the regular season with the same maniacal intensity they did in 2009. This team played games in November 2008 as if it were June, and we loved them for it. The Celtics sensed they were playing for history and their opponents made it known—often openly—that they were extra-motivated to play a team they considered arrogant and bullying. It had been a long, long time since regular season NBA games felt so competitive.

And then KG hurt his knee, Ray Allen suffered nagging injuries to his upper and lower body and Paul Pierce played more minutes than he had since 2006. And he looked tired in May.

The invincible bullies suddenly looked like brittle 30-somethings, and championship aspirations crumbled despite an incredible playoff effort. They just didn’t have the horses.

I think the older guys on this team—and there are even more of the now that Wallace is here—will and should approach this season with a greater sense of their own fragility. And since the team is more talented, Doc Rivers can experiment with line-ups and limit minutes more easily than last season.

So I’m sticking with it: 57-25, and a damn good shot at a title.

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