If you're trying to get a lead on which NBA teams will be racking up wins and contending for the championship trophy this season, take a peek at the schedule. Talk radio, newspapers and sports websites will give you their opinion, but the schedule never lies.
That schedule reveals clues that the Boston Celtics are yet again expected to be a title contender for the fourth consecutive season. It's also a clear indicator that this roster will be a traveling circus that everyone -- even Laker fans -- will want to see.
After a 2009-10 season that was branded as "Reloaded" and saw the team reach the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons, Boston went to work again this offseason and sculpted another behemoth of a team. With the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal jumping on the Celtics' train, in addition to some other well-crafted moves, the Celtics have deepened their roster and are poised to make another push for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
There may be no team in the league that has more overall star power, either. The roster boasts 51 All-Star appearances, three Slam Dunk Contest championships, a rising superstar point guard and four other players who are surefire Hall of Famers.
This group of Celtics will be must-see entertainment from fall to spring, from East Coast to West Coast and from north to south. They're expected to win and win often, and as a result, they are one of the main courses offered on this year's NBA schedule.
The circus begins at 7:30 p.m. on Opening Night in the TD Garden when the Miami Heat's new super-team plays its first game together on the defending Eastern Conference champions' home court. It's fitting that the Celtics are the team that will take on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their first game together as teammates. After all, they are the newest Big Three, and the first to form since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston. It's essentially an Opening Night All-Star game that will most likely break all viewership records for the first game of an NBA season.
The first game of the season will be televised on TNT and will be the first of Boston's 25 national television games (discounting NBA TV). The Celtics will be on national television every time they play four separate opponents: the Heat (four games), Magic (three times), Lakers (two times) and Nuggets (two times.).
Boston will also play in front of a national audience on three holidays this season. First, the C's will head to Orlando to play on Christmas Day for the second consecutive year against Dwight Howard and the Magic. It's a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals and will be the first meeting between the two teams since Boston eliminated Orlando in six games to continue its improbable run to the Finals.
Just six days after the C's fly out of Orlando, Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets will be in Boston for a New Year's Eve matinee. Boston's final holiday game of the season will be an 8 p.m. home game versus the Magic on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Here is a quick list of some games to look out for:
- 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 vs. Miami Heat
- 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 vs. New York Knicks - Likely Boston's toughest divisional opponent, who are rebuilt to make a playoff run.
- 8 p.m. Nov. 5 vs. Chicago Bulls - Two teams with a strong playoff history, and with Carlos Boozer on board, Chicago is expected to challenge for the title.
- 7 p.m. Nov. 19 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
- 7 p.m. Dec. 8 vs. Denver Nuggets
- 2:30 p.m. Dec. 25 @ Orlando Magic
- 3:30 p.m. Jan 30 @ Los Angeles Lakers
- 8 p.m. Feb. 3 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
- 8 p.m. April 1 @ Atlanta Hawks - This late-season rivalry game could play role in the final seedings of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
- 8 p.m. April 7 @ Chicago Bulls
- 3:30 p.m. April 10 @ Miami Heat
During every NBA season, each and every team will go through ups and downs in terms of intensity of the schedule. This season's schedule layout seems relatively forgiving for the C's, with their longest road trip being four games (they will do that four times) and their longest homestand being six games, but there are still some difficult areas on the schedule.
Eighteen back-to-backs are on tap for this season, which is equal to last season's total. Six of those are back-to-back road games, while none are home-and-homes.
As far as difficult stretches, there are two that stand out and look like they'll be challenging for the C's heading into the season.
Opening up against Miami will obviously be a tough one, but the schedule doesn't let up at all over the first two and a half weeks of the season. Including the opener against the Heat, Boston will play eight of its first 10 games against teams that are expected to make or challenge for the playoffs.
The second tough stretch will not come until Jan. 27 when the Celtics begin one of their season-long four-game road trips out West. The trip will include games against the likes of the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers in a four-day span. After finishing up the road trip in Sacramento, the C's will head back east to continue the tough stretch.
Four of the next five games will be at home, but all four are against teams expected to challenge for the championship this season. Dallas, Orlando, the Lakers and Miami, respectively, will all make stops in the Garden between Feb. 4 and 13. And oh yeah, Boston will make a stop in Charlotte, an Eastern Conference playoff team last season, in the middle of that stretch on Feb. 7.
All in all, it's a nine-game stretch over 18 days that includes eight playoff teams and a four-game West Coast trip. Luckily for the C's, they'll have only one game after that, against the New Jersey Nets, before they get some time to recover over the All-Star break.
With that group of games out of the way, it looks as if the Celts will have a relatively painless schedule after the Feb. 13 matchup with Miami. They will head out West for the annual post-All-Star break road trip, but the trip shouldn't be overly demanding. There are no back-to-backs during the trip and the C's will take on the Warriors, Nuggets (who may be without Carmelo Anthony by that point), Clippers and Jazz, respectively, from Feb. 22-28.
They'll return home to kick off a 16-game month of March, but the good news is that only one of the 16 games is against a team that is considered to be a title contender -- the San Antonio Spurs, who will take on the C's on the 31st. From the beginning of March through the end of the season, Boston will play 24 games and only three will be against teams thought to be elite (San Antonio, Chicago and Miami).
That's the good news about the stretch run of the season. The bad news is that the Celtics, who learned last season how important it is to rest properly heading into the playoffs, will finish the season with nine games in 14 days, including three back-to-backs. Such a stretch could be hard on the team if it runs into the predicament of choosing between playing for a higher seed or resting its players for the postseason.
Boston has already shown that it can succeed in the playoffs by ignoring seeding and resting up for a title run, but that formula has been far from the norm over the NBA's history. When the time comes to make that decision, you can be sure that the country will be watching. Because if there's anything that's certain after looking at the NBA schedule, it's that the C's will be in the national spotlight from start to finish.