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Earlier this week, the Boston Celtics released their full schedule for the upcoming 2010-2011 season. The entire basketball world knew that the C’s would open the season against the recently revamped Miami Heat. Though basketball fans eyes are pinned to Miami’s troika of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, there are actually 81 other games to be played next season. Let’s take a look at the five games you absolutely can not miss.
The defending Eastern Conference champs will debut a new-look roster of their own with twin towers Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal. After LeBron James announced he would be “taking his talents to South Beach,” an opening night match up against the Celtics made perfect sense. The Heat will arrive full of hype, talent, and star power, ready to take on the team that handed them their final loss of last season, sending them home in round one of the playoffs with relative ease. While the former Heat relied on Wade’s ability to score at will, Miami 2.0 has a three-headed monster that will give other teams fits. With the amount of attention heaped on James and Wade, expect Bosh to turn in his most complete season as a pro as he will undoubtedly be the beneficiary of lots of open looks. Though Miami is younger and more talented on paper, their first game together won’t be their best. The Celtics come equipped with size and experience and will refuse to get tangled in the hoopla that the James Gang provides. The Celtics will definitely create mismatches when they go big, but may not be able to keep up with some of Miami’s smaller, faster, and younger talent. Win or lose, the Celtics get the first look (along with the rest of the country) at the NBA’s most exciting team in a game that will set records for television ratings.
The Big Three-era Celtics should be used to Christmas Day tilts at this point in their fourth season together. The Magic will play host to the Celtics, who out-muscled them in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. It will be the Celtics first trip to the new Amway Arena, but don’t expect the team to get caught up in the architecture. The Magic sent the Celtics home in 2009, and along with the Heat remain Boston’s only real competition within the conference. The Celtics were able to utilize their size and fouling ability to limit Dwight Howard’s impact and they’ve only added more big bodies since. The Magic are also without defensive specialist and all-around pest Matt Barnes, who provided a different dimension every time he set foot on the floor last season. When it comes to contests against Boston, as Howard goes, so go the Magic.
While this won’t be the first time the Celtics see the Lakers, it will be the reigning NBA Champions’ first return to Boston since the two teams faced in June’s NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant comes to town having never been more invincible. King James’ reputation has taken a hit of late, and Bryant’s fifth ring solidified his position among the all-time greats. Bryant haters continually point to his 6 of 24 shooting performance in Game 7, but most know how good he is. As one of the most polarizing professional athletes of our time, Bryant is as ice cold as an assassin always capable of killing opponents at will. He has proved he can win without Shaq and a five-time champion isn’t made by accident. Bryant and company will bring the same talent and grit we’ve come to expect and their defense has only improved as the aforementioned Barnes signed on this summer. In a backhanded show of respect, the Lakers went after Tony Allen hard this off-season, silently conceding that he did a superb job of defending Bryant last year. Allen jumped to Memphis instead, but the Lakers commitment to defense is here for a while. This game could very well be a preview of next June’s Finals if Miami proves to be a paper tiger.
The Celtics will only play Kevin Durant’s Thunder twice next season. The November 19 game will be their last regular season meeting and only game in Boston. Durant is fast becoming the best player in the NBA and his upstart Thunder took the Lakers to Game 6 in their opening round playoff series in May. Besides Durant, OKC features Russell Westbrook, a point guard with a tenacious approach to both sides of the ball. As good as he is at creating opportunities for Durant, he is as equally as dedicated to defense, a craft he has honed since his days on the courts at Ross Snyder Park in South Central Los Angeles. Expect the Thunder to make yet another leap as the Western Conference has much of the same look as last season. If the Lakers fail to reach the Finals again next season, it isn’t a far stretch to imagine the Thunder in their place.
In the final week of the season, Boston will travel back to Miami in a final tune-up before the playoffs. If all goes according to plan, these two teams can count on a date in the Eastern Conference Finals if Orlando stays out of the way. Despite a mediocre regular season last year, the Celtics were able to turn up the intensity at the end the year that carried them into the playoffs and all the way to the Finals. With a team of veterans, this year’s regular season may take the same path as Boston will know when to pick their spots. This game is one of those spots, and the implications will be far greater than they were in October.