BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are elite – at least according to the NBA.
Boston will be featured on two of the most important days of the 2017-18 season – Opening Night and Christmas Day – which stands as a sure sign that the NBA expects the league’s most prominent franchise to be one of the league’s most formidable teams this season.
Opening Night will feature a Conference Finals rematch between the Celtics and the Cavaliers. The game will be played on Cleveland’s home court, a well-deserved advantage for the Cavs after they advanced past Boston to earn the Eastern Conference title earlier this year.
Quite a bit has changed since that occurrence, however, and many now peg the Celtics – not King James and his Cavs – as the top dogs in the East.
The Celtics took a 53-win team and went out and bolstered the roster with the addition of All-Star wing Gordon Hayward, No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum and veteran forward Marcus Morris. They’ll also be infused with loads of young talent, as 2016 first-round picks Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic have joined the team along with German forward Daniel Theis and promising second-round picks Semi Ojeleye (2017) and Abdel Nader (2016).
Boston is expected to take a significant step forward this season as a result of all of the moves outlined above. Cleveland, meanwhile, is another year older and could take a step backward.
As ESPN recently pointed out, the Cavaliers are expected to be the oldest team in the league in relation to projected minutes played. For comparison purposes, Cleveland has 10 players with at least 10 years of mileage on their legs; the Celtics, meanwhile, have seven rookies. Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (28), Derrick Rose (28), Iman Shumpert (27) and Tristan Thompson (26) are Cleveland’s only rotational players who are younger than 30.
And, as rumors swirl leading up to the regular season, there is no guarantee that any of those players – All-Stars included – will be on Cleveland’s roster come Opening Night.
Still, the presence of LeBron James looms, and he will always reign supreme while he is on the court. Simply put, the Celtics – and no other team in the league, for that matter – do not have a player of his caliber. However, Boston now possesses the level of versatility required to defend him at a high level.
Jae Crowder and Gordon Hayward have already served as primary defenders for their teams against James throughout their careers. So has Jaylen Brown. Add Morris to that trio, along with two strong-bodied, athletic youngsters in Yabusele and Ojeleye, and the C’s can throw more capable looks at James than any team in the league.
This is surely no guarantee that Boston will upend Cleveland on Opening Night, but all of these factors do play into why the Celtics are ranked ahead of the Cavs by some NBA pundits. That’s what will make Opening Night so fun, and that’s why the NBA has pitted these two title contenders against each other to tip off a brand new season.
Boston’s matchup on Christmas Day isn’t quite as enticing, but it’s a fun matchup nonetheless. The Celtics will be hosting a game on Christmas Day for only the second time in team history. They’ll play host to the Washington Wizards, whom they defeated in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this past May. The Celtics will be led by the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Hayward, while the Wizards will be led by All-Star point guard John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.
Last spring’s playoff series was heated, as it featured one player suspension and a bevy of technical and flagrant fouls. Markieff Morris of the Wizards was right in the thick of the confrontations, and guess what? His brother, Marcus, is now a member of the Celtics. How fun will it be to watch a sibling rivalry be tossed into the fold?
This contest will mark the teams’ first matchup since Boston’s 115-105 victory over the Wizards during Game 7. So, although new blood will be thrown into this rivalry on both sides of the ball, the bad blood from last season is sure to carry over.
The anticipation for these two big nights begins to build starting today. We know the Celtics and the Cavs will collide on Opening Night, and we know that Boston and Washington will renew a budding rivalry on Christmas Day.
What we don’t know is what exactly will happen as these two entertaining games unfold in front of a national audience. Stay tuned for the answers on Oct. 16 and Dec. 25.