BOSTON CELTICS AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Sunday, March 18 (5 p.m.)
Why it’s on the list
Boston has emerged as one of the NBA’s best teams, earning a No. 1 seed in the East last season, before falling to Cleveland in the conference finals. The Celtics (53-29) then made one of the summer’s premier additions in free agency, landing Utah franchise player Gordon Hayward, who’s rejoining his college coach at Butler (Brad Stevens). There are intriguing matchups all over the floor in Pelicans-Celtics, including at point guard, where New Orleans point guard Rajon Rondo will face his first NBA team and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, one of the league’s most explosive scorers. The Celtics also have a multi-time All-Star in the frontcourt in Al Horford, who’ll have to contend with the Pelicans big-man duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
New Orleans will play two back-to-backs this season that consist of a pair of home games, including this back end of a weekend pair (the Pelicans host Houston the previous evening). The home matchup vs. Boston is part of one of the toughest three-game spans of the campaign for New Orleans, starting with a road game in San Antonio on March 15, followed by the home/home back-to-back. A four-game homestand in the Smoothie King Center wraps up March 20 and 22 against Dallas and the Lakers, respectively.
What’s new in Boston
Hayward’s decision to head to Beantown went against the grain in the NBA this summer, when many of the significant player moves traveled from East to West. Although he may not receive enough minutes to make a monumental impact in Year 1, the Celtics are also excited about selecting forward Jayson Tatum with the third pick in the NBA draft. The Duke product showed in summer league that he has a more polished offensive skill set than the vast majority of teenagers entering the NBA. If there is a concern for the Celtics entering ’17-18 – or at least an adjustment they’ll need to make – it comes depth-wise. Boston lost four players it relied on fairly significantly in the recent past, partly in order to clear the way for the Hayward signing. Quality two-way guard Avery Bradley was traded to Detroit (in exchange for Marcus Morris), while Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko all headed elsewhere in free agency.
Other 2017-18 games between these two teams
Tuesday, Jan. 16, New Orleans at Boston