The NBA schedule was released Tuesday, and the day after the release is typically when fans circle all the marquee matchups on their calendars. This season is different. TNT won’t carry a single Celtics game. ESPN and NBA TV will carry three each. The Celtics won’t play on Christmas.
Despite the lack of national respect, this year’s Celtics schedule might be more interesting than ever. The regular season matters more to a team fighting for the playoffs, so unlike in years past, there will be reasons to watch in February, March, and April. Here are the games that stick out.
Nov. 3 at Detroit
The Celtics will open the season in Toronto on Oct. 30 and will open their home schedule vs. Milwaukee on Nov. 1, but the third game of the season is more interesting. Like the Celtics, the Pistons are a young team trying to go places. Center Andre Drummond (pictured) is one of the league’s most promising big men. Having added Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, and Chauncey Billups, Detroit is a team that will directly compete with the Celtics for a playoff spot. There are no “tests’’ in early November, but this is as close as you get.
Dec. 8 at New York
The Knicks turned the tables on the Celtics in the playoffs last year, overcoming their division rivals and establishing a new pecking order in the Atlantic Division. The Knicks remain a natural rival, and Rajon Rondo and company would love to take them down on the game’s biggest stage in New York. We’ll miss Paul Pierce taking (and usually making) the last shot, but there’s still plenty to hold your interest.
Dec. 10 at Brooklyn; Jan. 26 vs. Brooklyn
Speaking of Pierce, the Celtics visit his new team for the first time in December. The Nets visit TD Garden for the first time in January. Both games, obviously, are must-see. Most Celtics fans were OK with the premise of the trade that sent Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to the Nets to build toward the future, but actually seeing it happen will be jarring. Seeing KG beat his chest and Pierce stick a three as a member of the other team will be no fun.
Dec. 11 vs. Los Angeles
Wrapping up a busy week in early December, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers comes to Boston for his only appearance. The reaction should be mostly positive, but it will still make for interesting theater. Odds of Rivers walking into the wrong locker room by mistake are high.
January 13 vs. Rockets
With the Lakers on the decline and Kobe Bryant’s status in doubt, there’s a need to villainize another Western Conference team and its best player. The Rockets and center Dwight Howard fit perfectly. No matter how the Celtics fare this season, you’ll be rooting against Howard when he comes to TD Garden for his only visit. This will be a fun one.
March 1 vs. Pacers
Take a good look, Celtics fans: This is the kind of team you’d like to be in two or three years. The Pacers built a contender in-house. They took Paul George with the 10th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and turned him into a star. They developed, then kept, center Roy Hibbert. They survived the loss of their presumed best player, Danny Granger, and made it to the Eastern Conference Final with defense and grit.
March 5 vs. Warriors
Another team in the vein of the Pacers, Golden State visits for the only time in March. The Warriors are young, dynamic, and exciting. Their backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, as dynamic a shooting duo as the league has seen in years, is pretty much the opposite of the Celtics backcourt of Rondo and Avery Bradley. The Warriors are fun, and they’re a model for what the Celtics want to be going forward.
March 19 vs. Miami
The Miami Heat make their only trip to Boston on March 19. It’s as if the NBA didn’t want to trouble them sooner. As recently as last year they were a major rival. Now, they’re a team to jeer from the rafters. Buy your tickets early for this one. You’ll want to drown out the bandwagon LeBron James fans who will inevitably fill patches of the arena,
April 2 at Wizards
A game at Washington begins the closing stretch of the season. The Celtics will face Philadelphia (twice), Detroit, Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, and the Wizards again to close out the season. Most of these teams should be bad, but Washington, Detroit, and Cleveland could be battling the Celtics for the last couple of playoff spots. For the first time in a long time in Boston, April games could matter.