The NBA season tips earlier than ever before this season when the Boston Celtics visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
Players and coaches alike have requested for more rest and for good reason. The same 8-10 guys are playing 82 games in roughly six months and then the postseason begins. As it was, the teams that advanced deep into the playoffs only got three or four months off, which doesn’t include training camp and the preseason.
The NBA’s solution? Play the same number of games with the same number of minutes, just start those games sooner and end them later. Players will have about two weeks of extra rest this season, spread out over half a year.
Of course, it hardly felt like basketball ended after the Warriors finished off the Cavs in the Finals earlier this year. Offseason dominos started falling: Chris Paul to Houston, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder and Kyrie Irving moving from the Cavs to their primary competitor in the thinned-out Eastern Conference: the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics didn’t get Irving for free, but they didn’t give up much. In return, Cleveland received what’s left of Isaiah Thomas, plus Jae Crowder. The Celtics will miss Thomas’ 2016-2017 production but there is plenty of uncertainty about the player he will be going forward because of a bad hip that knocked him out of the Eastern Conference Finals last season. He will begin the season on the bench for Cleveland.
Boston, meanwhile, acquired a prime Kyrie Irving, hungry to make a name for himself now that he is out of LeBron James’ shadow, and signed Gordon Hayward earlier in the offseason — just about the only big player to come East. Boston had to let go of Avery Bradley in addition to Thomas and Crowder but this is a vastly improved team when you consider too that it added an NBA-ready rookie in Jayson Tatum and will bring back Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, each with another productive off-season under their belts.
These two teams figure to remain the best the East has to offer a year after Cleveland dispatched Boston only to get shoved aside by the Warriors in the Finals; the balance of power, however, has tightened.
The Celtics will start Jaylen Brown with their three All-Stars. The fifth guy is unknown to this point, though. Jayson Tatum started a number of preseason games and looked good. Marcus Morris, who was acquired for Avery Bradley, is the favorite to hold down the fifth spot but he may not be healthy enough for a full workload. Marcus Smart could also be the guy in a small ball lineup and Aron Baynes could team up with Horford for a bigger look, like the one Brad Stevens started with for most of last season, using Amir Johnson. Baynes is a definite an upgrade over Johnson, though.
Cleveland will use a couple of newcomers you’ve likely heard of to start the game in the backcourt: Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade. LeBron has an ankle problem but he should be ready to go, along with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson up front. The Cavs have tons of firepower off the bench, including Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver, and again; that is with Isaiah Thomas unavailable.
Both teams have a lot of new pieces to work into the arrangement but Boston looks the most ready to win on Tuesday. The C’s were crisp in the preseason and will move the ball on a level with the Warriors and Spurs this season. Cleveland is an isolation team that could looks sloppy at times this season. Three points isn’t much but I’ll take what I can get with the Celtics.
Free Pick: Boston +3