Boston Still Best

Well, there is nothing like the realism of a coach to knock you off a cloud of optimism. We had a media lunch with Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks and naturally, I asked his assessment of the Eastern Conference going into the upcoming season.

He told me what I already knew.

"Boston is still the team to beat," Cheeks said of the reigning NBA champion Celtics. "The players that they added last year (Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) were All-Star players at their positions, and they didn't disappoint anyone the way they play.

"The defense was No.1 in the league and they had offensive players who could command a double team, and when that happened, they had players who spread the floor and could make jump shots from different positions. Boston is certainly the team to beat."

Sure, the Sixers added one of the top free agents on the market in power forward Elton Brand, and they certainly strengthened their bench with the addition of players like Kareem Rush and Donyell Marshall, but let's not forget that there is a 26-game difference between Boston's 66-16 record of a year ago and the Sixers' 40-42 mark.

Unless you've added Shaquille O'Neal or Moses Malone in their prime, you don't make up that kind of distance in one summer. The Sixers will be vastly improved, and a lot of things could change between now and the start of the playoffs. Come the postseason, they might be a match for anybody in a seven-game series.

But as of right now, before any training camp has opened, the Celtics look like they will again go into the postseason as the No.1 seed.

"Obviously, Detroit is still good with that veteran team," Cheeks said. "Orlando and Washington are good. I expect Chicago to be better. There will be different teams, but the clear-cut favorite is Boston."


Speaking of Moses Malone, Cheeks was asked if Brand could have the same impact on the team he coaches as Malone had on the 1983 Sixer team that won the NBA championship.

Cheeks, who was the point guard on that championship team, said it all by his silence while trying to find the right way to respond.

"We had been to the Finals a couple of years before [Malone]," Cheeks said of the '83 Sixers, who also featured Julius Erving, Andrew Toney and Bobby Jones and were coached by Billy Cunningham. "We just got to the playoffs last year. We are still trying to get ourselves to that elite level. [The '83] team was already at the elite level somewhat because we had been to the Finals.

"Moses came in and took us over the top. The final piece? Had we gotten to the Finals and barely missed it, yeah maybe, [Brand] would be that. I hope we get to that level where we are saying that [Brand] was that final piece."


The Sixers are having an essay contest for students throughout the Philadelphia region.

The "Rule the School" contest asks students to submit a 200-250 word easy and a photo both of which show their Sixer pride. The winner contestant will have the entire Sixers team, head coach Maurice Cheeks, Hip-Hop and in-game performers come to his/her school on Oct. 16, 2008.

The Sixers crew will "Rule the School" by taking over as teachers and faculty.

Deadline for entries is Oct. 1 via email and Oct. 4 via the postal service. For complete rules and regulations visit