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The Boston Celtics haven't played a game yet, but are already fifth on Marc Stein's ESPN power rankings to open up the season.

Boston's restocked sqaud trails only Cleveland, Golden State, San Antonio, and Los Angeles (Clippers, of course). These opening-night rankings are obviously based solely on expectations since no games have been played, but it is encouraging to be ranked fifth in the league nonetheless. More notably, this would suggest that Stein has the C's finishing second in the Eastern Conference. Here is what he had to say about what the Celtics are capable of this season:

Al Horford, amazingly, has only been on a two 50-win teams to date in a nine-season career. You suspect it won't be an issue making that three in 2016-17, now that he's part of the Danny Ainge-Brad Stevens revolution in Boston. But the Celtics will be forced to lean on their well-chronicled depth earlier than they wanted to thanks to Marcus Smart's sudden ankle issue and Kelly Olynyk's ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery.

Stein seems to value injuries very heavily while constructing his rankings. Not only did he note his concern about Smart's ankle and Olynyk's shoulder, but he moved the Celtics up a whole spot past the Raptors since his last edition once Jared Sullinger suffered a foot injury that may keep him sidelined for two or three months.

It will be immensely difficult to crack the top three in the power rankings at any point this season with the title-defending Cavs picking up right where they left off, the Warriors' straight silly super team (despite their Tuesday night struggles), and the Spurs still being, well, the Spurs. However, the rest of the spots are all up for grabs:

The cold reality on this first Power Rankings Monday of October is that it's hard to dream up a scenario for the 2016-17 season that doesn't end with the Cavs and Warriors hooking up in the Finals for the third successive June. Yet it's also true that there is so much unpredictability bubbling from No. 3 on down that there will be plenty to discuss in this cyberspace when we convene here weekly with a new ladder.

How high in the power rankings do you think the Celtics can climb this season?


Follow Erik on Twitter: @erikjohnson32

Photo of Isaiah by Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Johnson 10/26/2016 06:02:00 PM Edit
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