The Boston Celtics are a popular sleeper pick to threaten the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference when the NBA playoffs roll around later this summer.
That's according to some NBA reporters. Others -- like J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star -- could see the Celtics losing in the first or second round.
Michael, who covers the Indiana Pacers for the Star, joined NBC Sports Boston's Kyle Draper, Chris Forsberg and A. Sherrod Blakely on the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast to offer an outsider's view of the 2019-20 C's.
And Boston fans aren't going to like it.
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"I think the Pacers are a good matchup, because I think on the interior is where they would have such a big advantage," Michael said. "... I think that's where Boston is weaker and maybe more vulnerable than what they've been in a couple years past.
"So, while I still think Boston is a good team, I don't think they're a Conference Finals-level team. I know a lot of people think they are. I think they've taken a step back. I think this year is going to be a step back before they can take that other step forward. ... I still think they're in good position to be a team that competes to get to the Conference Finals. I just thought this season, even though they're still good -- just like I feel like Miami is good -- and they've gotten better ... I still think that's a year or two away to see what happens."
Michael sees the Celtics as a "second-round team," in part due to their lack of frontcourt depth. While Daniel Theis has overachieved at center, fellow big men Enes Kanter and Robert Williams have both missed time due to injury and bring less to the table than Al Horford, who left Boston in free agency last summer.
The Pacers, meanwhile, have two talented big men in Myles Turner and All-Star Domantas Sabonis, who's averaging 18.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game this season.
So, while most Boston fans would rather see the No. 3 seed C's face Indiana in the first round than Philadelphia -- the Pacers and 76ers are fifth and sixth seeds, respectively but have identical records -- Michael offers a word of caution.
That's why I think the Pacers against the Celtics would be a much better series than what it was before.
If somehow the Pacers and Celtics ended up in a first-round series -- I took Boston last year, but I'm gonna take the Pacers this year.
The Celtics are a top-five NBA title contender according to some sportsbooks, but Michael believes they could get bounced in the first round. How's that for a hot take?
The NBA and its players are still trying to work out the details, but the 2019-20 season is set to resume July 30 with eight "seeding games" before the playoffs begin.
And while many are bullish on the Celtics, it appears they still have doubters to prove wrong.