I hate to say it, but I'm a total sucker for two totally dumb things in sports. Those two things? New uniforms and schedule releases. It's pretty silly, I know, but oh well. Anyway, the NBA dropped their "first half" schedule for the 2020-2021 season today and I wanted to take a look at some interesting dates that the Celtics will have to look forward to.
Before we get to that, you may be asking why the league is giving us only the first half of the season and not the full thing like they usually do. Well, we're in a pandemic and in case you haven't noticed, nothing is normal. Commissioner Adam Silver and company have decided that it makes sense to let us know what the second half will like right before the first half comes to an end. That way, they can remain flexible and can more easily deal with complications that could possibly and probably, occur.
Here are a few quick notes about league wide schedule quirks that are coming into play due to COVID-19...
- 72 game regular season (cut down from the usual 82)
- December 22nd tip-off
- March 4th starts the 6-day "All Star Break" when no All Star Game will actually be played
- No bubble in the plans, for now
- All teams play either 37 or 38 games in the first half, including between 17 and 20 home games
- Introduction of baseball-like series scheduling (teams playing two games in a row against eachother in the same city) for teams in the same conference. Each team plays an average of four of these series during first half (two home and two away)
- Teams play more consecutive road games against teams in same general geographic area with about half as many single-game road trips
That captures just some of the unique changes to this year's NBA season schedule and I'm sure adjustments will be made as things progress for the better or worse. Now, let's get to the key Celtics dates to mark on our calendars!
December 15th @ Philadelphia on TNT (7:30 pm ET) - The Celtics open up the preseason against the Philadelphia 76ers. Honestly, no one cares about preseason and we'll only have two of these useless games this year. The only reason I'm noting this date is because it's the first time the Celtics will have some sort of game action. Feel free to ignore this one though.
December 23rd vs Milwaukee on TNT (7:30 pm ET) - Ah, an early Christmas present! The Celtics will host the Milwaukee Bucks on their Opening Night on TNT. Honestly, I'm a little surprised that this game didn't get the nod for the league's Opening Night on the 22nd, but I guess the schedule makers wanted to see the juicy matchup of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets versus Durant's old team, the Golden State Warriors (headlined by the obvious guys, Steph Curry and Draymond Green).
Anyway, the C's get one of the two national tv games on the 23rd and it'll be awesome to watch them go toe-to-toe with the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a new look Bucks team. These are arguably the two best teams in the East (sorry Miami) and it'll be an early measuring stick for each club. Unfortunately, the C's are going to be a bit banged up to start the year, most notably with Kemba Walker out until January or February. It'll still be a good one, though.
December 25th vs Brooklyn on ABC (5:30 pm ET) - There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, better than the NBA on Christmas Day. It even takes the cake over Thanksgiving football or July 4th baseball. Now, do I wish the Celtics were facing LeBron and the Lakers on Xmas rather than Durant, Kyrie and the Nets? Yes. Still though, this will be a fun matchup filled with lots of reasons to hate the other team on such a cheerful day. Tipping off at 5 pm ET also puts us right there on your aunt's couch, nursing the last IPA and full of food.
The fact that there will be no fans in the stands at the Garden means that Kyrie will surely play because he can avoid getting taunted and booed. It's unfortunate to know that he'll get away once again, but his day with Boston is coming sooner or later.
January 4th @ Toronto, *ahem* I mean, Tampa Bay on TBD (7:30 pm ET) - The C's get their first look at the league's new Tampa Bay team, the Raptors! The Raps are playing in Florida due to COVID restrictions between Canada and the United States, so this will be a funny little wrinkle. Anyway, these two meet on a Monday night in the town Tom Brady built (right? Tom made Tampa a sports town. That's what I'm told at least..) to renew an Eastern Conference rivalry. They played a tough playoff series in the bubble with Boston ultimately winning in 7 games. You can bet that the Raps will be ready to avenge that.
January 6th @ Miami on ESPN (7:30 pm ET) and January 10th vs Miami on NBA TV (7:30 pm ET) - It's an Eastern Conference Finals rematch! We get a home and home between the C's and the Miami Heat with the first game coming on a Wednesday night in South Beach and the second one coming a few days later on Sunday night in Boston. The C's can look for a little revenge and we get two games that are sure to be down-to-the-wire fun.
January 8th vs Washington on TBD (7:30 pm ET) - Sandwiched in between the two games with Miami, the Celtics get their first look at the Russell Westbrook Wizards on a Friday night. The game will be in Boston and honestly it will probably get very little hype but I'm excited to see the matchup. I think the Russ for John Wall trade makes Washington a really fun, competitive team and it'll be cool to see these two franchises renew a bit of a rivalry.
January 20th @ Philadelphia on ESPN (7:00 pm ET) and January 22nd @ Philadelphia on ESPN (7:30 pm ET) - The Celtics play one of their baseball-type series on this Wednesday and Friday night in Philadelphia. The Sixers have been the Celtics most hated Eastern Conference rival for years now and another log will be thrown on the fire with the addition of Philly's new head coach, Doc Rivers. I'd imagine it'll be tough for Boston to take both of these games on the road but it would be extremely sweet. Both matchups will be on ESPN.
January 30th vs Los Angeles Lakers on ABC (8:30 pm ET) - It'll be a Saturday night fight against the defending NBA Champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. Anytime LeBron comes to town, the excitment gets kicked way up. He, Anthony Davis and an IMPROVED Lakers squad will be a tough team to beat but I know it'll be appointment viewing regardless.
February 2nd @ Golden State on TNT (10:00 pm ET), February 5th @ Los Angeles Clippers on ESPN (10:00 pm ET), February 7th @ Phoenix on NBA TV (2:00 pm ET) and February 9th @ Utah on TNT (10:00 pm ET) - I hope you are ready to stay up late! This is a toughhhh west coast swing. The C's start out in San Fran vs the Warriors before heading to Sacramento on the 3rd (I'm not including that game because the Kings don't interest me, sorry). After that they stop in LA to play the Clippers and then head to Phoenix to see the new-look Suns. They end the trip in Utah vs the Jazz. Let's see what each game means and why I'm highlighting this.
We start with the return of the Warriors. It's been a year since we saw Golden State resemble anything close to what they once were. They STILL won't have Klay Thompson, after his latest injury, but I anticipate that the Dubs will be back to some level of contention with Steph, Draymond, James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre. At the very least, we can tune in to watch Curry rain threes on a Tuesday night.
After that, the C's will be at the Staples Center to see Kawhi and the Clips that Friday. There was a lot of turmoil with the other LA team this offseason, but they are still loaded with talent and will probably be a lot hungrier to bounce back. Games between Boston and the Clips were fun last year, so I'm anticipating that to remain the same.
We finally get a little break from the late nights with the Sunday afternoon tilt in Phoenix. The Suns caught everyone's eye in the bubble as they went undefeated (and still missed the playoffs). The real reason I'm intrigued by this game though is because of Phoenix's addition of Chris Paul. CP3 makes the Suns a very interesting squad and it'll be cool to see their growth.
Finally, the game against the Jazz comes as another late one, on a Tuesday. This game is simply circled for me because of Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell has been a star for most of his short time in the league, but he really started looking like he hit a different level in the bubble. The fact that he's also good friends with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba also makes this game interesting because of the friendly "who can top who" type of back and forth that we'll see.
February 16th vs Denver on TBD (7:00 pm ET) and February 17th vs Atlanta on TBD (7:30 pm ET) - I lumped these two games together not because they have really anything in common, but because they form a back-to-back against two tough clubs. The first matchup comes against the Denver Nuggets on a Tuesday night in Boston. The Nuggets, like the Celtics, made their conference finals but lost. The Nugs have the game's best center in Nikola Jokic and maybe the biggest winner of the bubble, Jamal Murray. I can't wait to see how these two match up.
On the Wednesday night, the Celtics get the new-look Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta will be there for a two game series in Boston and they'll be bringing big free agent signings, Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. They've also added rookie big man Onyeka Okungwu (someone I wanted the Celtics to draft). Along with Trae Young, this roster looks much improved and we'll be looking at a team that can challenge for a 5 or 6 seed in the East.
February 21st @ New Orleans on ABC (3:30 pm ET) and February 23rd @ Dallas on TNT (7:30 pm ET) - The last games I'll highlight are put together as two of the three on a mini-road trip down south. On Sunday the 21st, the Celtics play a matinee in New Orleans against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans. Before they totally collapsed in the bubble, the Pels were one of the most exciting teams in the league. They've got a new coach in Stan Van Gundy and some changes to the roster, but they still will be athletic and up-tempo.
Two days later, the C's play in Dallas on a Tuesday night. This one sticks out because there isn't a more enjoyable player to watch in the NBA right now than Mavericks star, Luka Doncic. That's really all there is to it for me. No further explanation is needed.
All in all, the Celtics fist half schedule will be weird, tough and fun. They have the second most nationally televised games (behind only LeBron and the Lakers) and they have exactly 19 home games and 19 away games. After a short-offseason, the C's will have limited off-days and six sets of back-to-backs. Only one of those doesn't require travel in between the games. They'll also only have two times when they have more than a day off in between games. This is going to be a grind, but the challenges will only make them stronger. I can't wait!