Celtics Lead

Toughest Stretches of Boston’s 2019-20 Schedule

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NBA basketball returns in less than a week. After dissecting rosters and schedules through the doldrums of summer, basketball fans can rejoin reality as their teams all contend for the championship. For the Celtics, their schedule generally puts the team in good position to silence the doubters after a rough 2018-19 run. Boston’s slate is tied for fifth-easiest in the Association, per Jared Dubin, but that doesn’t mean the entire calendar is a cakewalk.

 

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Boston’s schedule features three formidable stretches of basketball. Many of these games are nationally televised, meaning the team will be on display for millions of critics. For the Celtics to build confidence and camaraderie, they’ll need to power through these problematic sections of the calendar.

November 15-22 (Five Games)

2018-19 Playoff teams: 3

Westgate Mean Projected Wins: 43.9

The Celtics face their lengthiest road trip of the season early on — and it is a doozy. Five Western Conference games make up this brutal week of basketball in which the C’s face off against the Warriors, Kings, Suns, Clippers, and Nuggets (in order). The stretch includes a back-to-back that requires a decent amount of travel between the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento and Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.

All five squads boast electrifying guard play. D’Angelo Russell, De’Aaron Fox, Devin Booker, and Jamal Murray are all fast-rising young players. Veteran Clipper Patrick Beverley remains one of the most ferocious stoppers in the league. Stephen Curry still spearheads Golden State as the best point guard in basketball. Altogether, these six floor generals will be devastating juggernauts for the Celtics on both ends of the floor. Marcus Smart can bring the necessary intensity every night — this stretch will challenge Kemba Walker and the rest of the guard rotation.

Inside Troubles

At the same time, this segment of Boston’s schedule brings a troubling mix of physicality and athleticism inside. The Warriors will roll out free agent acquisition Willie Cauley-Stein as their starting center, while Ivica Zubac and Nikola Jokic are broad-shouldered bruisers on the Clippers and Nuggets. In between are the 2018 draft’s top two selections: DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III. Both are high-flying big men that will keep the Celtics’ centers running.

This November week will be a crucial test of Boston’s chemistry and the fit of their new additions. The pressure will be on for Walker to produce against other top scoring guards. Meanwhile, Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier, who are notable for their rebounding prowess, must control the glass over five games. The results will either instill confidence in the team or sour the fan base early.

January 8-16 (Six Games)

2018-19 Playoff Teams: 4

Westgate Mean Projected Wins: 44.7

Boston’s schedule features another challenging segment in the hard-fought middle of the NBA season. On January 8th, TD Garden hosts the San Antonio Spurs before the team heads out to Philadelphia for a critical rivalry game. Then the Celtics return to Beantown for two contests against rising young teams in New Orleans and Chicago, followed by a third home game against Blake Griffin and the playoff-hopeful Pistons. The period ends with another road contest finishing a back-to-back — a primetime television matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Every team in this part of the schedule boasts top-end athleticism across the wing positions. The Spurs are led by the speed and power of DeMar DeRozan, who is deadly anywhere inside the three-point arc. Philly’s balanced offensive attack includes a fluid three-level scorer in Tobias Harris. Zach LaVine, for all his defensive miscues, has grown well beyond his dunking pedigree in Chicago. Blake Griffin is in the middle of his prime and can still posterize any player on the floor. And perhaps the two most exciting young athletes in basketball are reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and first overall pick Zion Williamson.

Wing Defense Needed

The success of the Celtics in this stretch hinges on their wing defense. Jayson Tatum should consistently receive more time at power forward, and he has the frame to maintain his reputation against larger forwards like Harris, Griffin, and Williamson. Marcus Smart, as one of the most capable defensive guards in basketball, should be a nightmare for DeRozan and LaVine. Jaylen Brown‘s size proves beneficial as well, though he needs to improve his quickness on defense. The biggest X-factor is Gordon Hayward, who was consistently a liability last year as he recovered from injury. Hayward was too slow in most matchups to affect much on defense, and Boston needs to fix this issue.

February 11-29 (Seven Games)

2018-19 Playoff Teams: 5

Westgate Mean Projected Wins: 49.5 (accounts for two games against Houston)

This stretch of Boston’s schedule sandwiches the NBA All-Star break, so that portion of rest should help the Celtics through this monstrous run. Before the break is a pair of games against the revamped Rockets and Clippers. Following the time off is a four-game road trip that sees Boston play the Timberwolves and Lakers as well as fight through a back-to-back against the Trail Blazers and Jazz. Boston ends the month with a leap day home rematch against Houston.

Six of these seven contests are against Western Conference championship contenders. Again, the point guard lineup is threatening. Boston will have to face Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, and if you’d like to include him, LeBron James. Then there is the schedule of superstar bigs, including defensive aces Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert, offensive powerhouse Karl-Anthony Towns, and two-way menace Anthony Davis. Add the ferocious wing duo of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, and recall James, and the star power amongst these teams becomes unbelievable.

What To Expect

All three parts of Boston’s schedule answer different vital questions for the fan base. In November, the five-game swing should be a litmus test for the team’s chemistry. Even if the Celtics don’t return home 5-0, the morale of the team must be high in preparation for the long season.

The early January slate is meaningful for Boston’s place in the Eastern Conference standings. These games could be critical decisions in a tight conference come April. But maybe more importantly, the contests should make a statement regarding the team’s wing rotation. Brown, Hayward, Tatum, and even Smart must prove they can solidify a defense that lost vital pieces this summer.

The eighteen days in February will show Celtics fans where their squad stands in the championship race. Additionally, the matchups all follow the NBA trade deadline. If Danny Ainge decided to make roster moves, this stretch would be a harsh way to build chemistry. By this point the final rotation should be taking shape for Boston. February will indicate if that rotation is ready to contend in the playoffs.

Follow us on Twitter @CelticsLead for the latest Celtics news and insight.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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