MIAMI -- At the start of each season Doc Rivers eyes the reigning NBA champion as the team to beat. Part of doing that, obviously, is defending the defending title holder.
The Celtics drive for Banner 18 kicks off Tuesday night in Miami against the Heat, the squad that eliminated them in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in June. With powerhouse offensive threats peppered throughout the Heat's lineup, Rivers does not want the C's to rely on their own scoring to outshoot the Heat.
Their success has been founded on defense and that mindset hasn't changed. With the tipoff the 2012-13 season quickly approaching, Rivers believes his team still has work to do on that end.
"Our team, we still have a long way to go defensively, in my opinion," Rivers said prior to practice on Monday at the American Airlines Arena. "That's the fear -- because we have so many guys that can score and we can play so many small lineups, we still have to defend to win. I don't want us ever thinking we can just show up and run teams off the floor. That'd be nice."
The Celtics have bolstered their roster this season with younger, more athletic players who can run in transition with Rajon Rondo and give the team a different look. New additions such as Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, the re-signed Jeff Green, and rookie Jared Sullinger provide additional offensive weapons. Still Rivers look at how the players can combine for a strong defensive effort.
"Team defense, we have to just get better overall," said Rivers. "We're getting there, we're clearly not there in my opinion, but we're definitely working on it and I think we have the right mindset. Eventually we'll be able to do it."
The C's are well aware of the Heat's scoring capabilities, led by LeBron James who averaged 28.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists against the Celtics last season. They will look to use a rotation of players to defend James instead of relying on Paul Pierce alone. Green adds another option to the Celtics plan of attack.
"I don't know if anybody matches up with LeBron," said Rivers. "Jeff's another guy we can put on LeBron. I've said it about all the great players -- if they were easy to guard, they wouldn't be great. You just need multiple players to guard him. We have about three or four guys that have a chance to guard him. I think Jeff helps us more because Miami plays small."
The Celtics also will face a new sharpshooter on the opposing side. Ray Allen signed with the Heat this summer after five seasons in Boston. Even though he was moved to the Celtics bench last season and his offensive production decreased, he is still capable of nailing a clutch shot at any point.
"I think Ray Allen's going to get shots just like he got them with us because he's playing with great players and he can just stand somewhere all by himself and either you help or you don't," Rivers explained. "If you don't help, then LeBron gets a dunk or (Dwyane) Wade gets a layup. If you do help, Ray gets a layup. It's no different than when he was with us. Rondo drove, Paul got to the paint, they had to double team Kevin (Garnett), and Ray benefited from that. He'll do the same thing here (in Miami), maybe even more so here."
The Heat will be the first team to test the Celtics defense this season. Another 28 will do so as well. It may take time, but Rivers believes his team has the mindset to withstand the battle.
"It's a good group, I'll say that," he said. "I think they want to all do the right thing, I like that. That's always a good start."