Steinmetz: Just like that,Celtics team to beat

We took a stab at running down and ranking the Western Conference last week. Let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference heading into the 2007-08 season:

1. BOSTON: With three bona-fide stars — Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce — the Celtics have put themselves at the top of the heap. It might not even matter that they’re relying on Rajon Rondo at the point. Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale may even garner some Executive of the Year consideration for making the Celtics relevant again with the Garnett trade.

2. DETROIT: Yes, the Pistons lost to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals, but we’re still not ready to write off this veteran crew.

3. CHICAGO: The Bulls are turning into a seasoned playoff team and they have mixed in the kind of youth (Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefalosha and Joakim Noah) that should provide energy over a long season.

4. CLEVELAND: LeBron James continues to improve, but you can’t say the same about the players surrounding him. Bottom line is the Cavaliers didn’t get better in the offseason.

5. MIAMI: It is getting more and more difficult to envision Shaquille O’Neal carrying a team into the Finals — let alone a conference finals.

6. WASHINGTON: As long as Gilbert Arenas has anything to say about it, the Wizards will be a playoff team. Unfortunately, it’s a first-round-and-out playoff team.

7. NEW JERSEY: Jason Kidd showed this summer in the FIBA Americas Tournament he is still among the best point guards going. Throw in a pair of running wing men in Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson and the Nets will be in the postseason again.

8. TORONTO: Like the Warriors, the Raptors play a fast-paced style that can sometimes overwhelm opponents, particularly at home. If they do it again, they’ll sneak into the postseason — just like last season.

9. ORLANDO: Expect some fallout when the Magic — after having signed Rashard Lewis to a big-money contract — fail to make the playoffs.

10. MILWAUKEE: The Bucks have two players who would rather not be there: Charlie Bell and Yi Jianlian. That can affect a season.

11. CHARLOTTE: There is talk that with the addition of Jason Richardson, the Bobcats can become a playoff team. But they’ve already lost Sean May and the rest of their interior players are not particularly skilled.

12. NEW YORK: The Knicks have so many issues, it’s tough to know where to start. But how about here: They’re expecting an out-of-shape malcontent (Zach Randolph) to lead them. Good luck with that.

13. PHILADELPHIA: The 76ers think they have a potential star in Andre Iguodala. That’s not necessarily a given. And even if it is, he still needs a lot of help.

14. INDIANA: The Pacers went downhill after making the blockbuster trade with the Warriors, and a turnaround doesn’t seem likely. Don’t forget, Jermaine O’Neal isn’t exactly a happy camper.

15. ATLANTA: I still see a point guard problem here.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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