BOSTON -- The NBA continues to move ever-so-close to returning to action with invites to the league’s top 22 teams to converge in Orlando to close out the regular season and eventually crown a new NBA champion.
There are several factors that will come into play as the Boston Celtics kick off in earnest their stretch drive which they hope will end with a trip to the NBA Finals to claim Banner 18.
So we decided we’ll look at a few factors - 22 to be precise - that are likely to come into play in some fashion during the Celtics’ return to action.
Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis
1. JAYSON TATUM
The face of the franchise, Tatum’s ability to pick up where he left off prior to the season being suspended will be watched closely. The skills he has displayed make him one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the NBA. Continuing to build off the success he has had this season will be critical to Boston’s continued ascension in the NBA.
The Celtics (43-21) have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference with the eight games to be played in Orlando, Fla. reportedly set to be the team’s next eight opponents among the 22 that will be in Orlando. Pointing out the quality of the opponents doesn’t do a ton of good at this point, knowing that all the teams in the bubble are either in the playoffs or they are within striking distance. But the reset from a scheduling standpoint certainly benefits the Celtics. Of the eight opponents they are likely to play (Milwaukee; Washington twice; Toronto; Brooklyn; Portland; Memphis and Miami), five of those games were supposed to be on the road.
3. HOME COURT
Like most NBA teams, one of the benefits of being one of the best teams in your conference is a chance to have home-court advantage in the playoffs. However, a postseason played on a neutral site takes away this edge which for some teams, can be the difference between winning and losing.
How Boston handles having to win games with no support from those in the stands, will be among the many challenges they face as they begin to pick up in earnest their efforts towards a reboot to the season.
4. KEMBA WALKER
He spent most of this season as Boston’s best scorer, but still remains a major threat to defenses whenever he’s on the floor. He had some knee soreness following the All-Star break, forcing one of the NBA’s true Iron men in terms of not missing court time, to sit out a few games. He said earlier that the best treatment was rest, something Walker got plenty of during the pandemic. A healthy Walker could be a big problem for opponents trying to knock off the Celtics.
5. FINDING A FAVORABLE MATCHUP
Currently, the Philadelphia 76ers are the team Boston could match up with in the first round of the playoffs. But that could easily switch to Indiana or Brooklyn depending on how teams close out the season.
That will be among the bigger storylines between now and the end of the regular season. Because this season, more than most, seems as though matchups more than anything else will determine how teams fare in the playoffs.
6. GORDON HAYWARD
The Celtics head into the home stretch of the regular season feeling good about their chances of a deep postseason run in part because of Gordon Hayward. What Celtics fans have to love, is the consistency that he has played with this season. Prior to the All-Star break, he averaged 17.3 points. After the break, his scoring average went up a tick to 17.4 points per game while his field goal shooting remained a steady 50.2 percent from the field.
Having played no games for what has been nearly three months and counting, there is sure to be some amount of heavy legs, short-armed shots and bad defense by all at the start of the season reset. The speed in which the Celtics can shake off those basketball doldrums and return to playing good basketball will go far in determining just how deep a playoff run this team can make.
8. ROLE PLAYERS
The lack of fans and overall distractions may not benefit any group of players more than those coming off the bench or have a limited role as a starter. The Celtics don’t get much from their second unit which averages 27.2 points per game which ranks 29th in the NBA according to Hoopstats.com. More scoring would be a huge boost to a group that already has that defensive lockdown thing down pat, evident by them allowing a league-low 33.6 points from opposing team’s benches.
9. JAYLEN BROWN
He was about as close as a player could be to being named an All-Star in February primarily because of his ability to impact games on multiple levels. He’s playing with a different level of confidence now, displaying the kind of all-around game that reminds folks as to why Boston selected him so high in the draft in 2016.
10. ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The life of an NBA player is often one road trip after another. But what the Celtics and the other 21 teams are embarking as early as next month, is unheard of. If the Celtics have the kind of postseason success that they are hoping for, they could be in Orlando playing until the middle of October. The games themselves will be challenging. But being so far away from the comforts of home, that’s where the real challenge lies for the Celtics.
11. MENTAL HEALTH
This has become a much-talked-about issue among NBA players who have lately shown a greater amount of interest in finding out and exploring ways to improve their own mental health.
With a return to play, those in the bubble will have more to think about than just playing games. How well they balance both the basketball requirements and those away from the game, will be instrumental in Boston’s quest to finish the season strong and head into the playoffs with momentum.
13. FAN-FREE GAMES
Trailing by four, only to bounce back with a 17-4 run at the TD Garden. Up a couple scores which triggers a 10-0 spurt and a visiting team time-out. This is what playing in front of their fans has meant to the Boston Celtics. But with upcoming games being played with no fans, generating that kind of momentum-changing energy will be a lot easier said than done with all teams playing on a neutral court in Orlando, Fla. beginning next month.
14. ENES KANTER
Arguably Boston’s prized offseason addition besides Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter spent a good chunk of the season battling an assortment of injuries. But when healthy, his ability to score around the basket and rebound stood out as skills that the Celtics would benefit from down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs. He has had plenty of time for his bumps and bruises to heal. But will he be in good enough shape to make a major impact?
15. ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
NBA players are very much creatures of habit which will only add to the degree of difficulty as they begin returning to play. With the entire Celtics team, coaches and support staff all adjusting to a “new normal,” how quickly they can establish their individual and collective rhythms, will be huge.
The emergence of Jayson Tatum has been among the many reasons why the Celtics are viewed as a legit threat to come out of the Eastern Conference. And with Kemba Walker healthier than he was prior to the break in play, Boston should be even stronger on paper. But how will the pieces fit? Can Walker adjust to being the guy next-to-the-guy? Can Tatum pick up where he left off? Where do Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward fit into all this? These are just some of the chemistry-related questions the Celtics will face to start this season.
While many teams have a seemingly void when it comes to leaders, the Boston Celtics seem to be at the opposite end of the leadership spectrum. In the midst of a global pandemic, Jaylen Brown has emerged as not just a leader of the Celtics but also of men in using his platform to raise awareness about a host of societal issues. Jayson Tatum, Enes Kanter and Kemba Walker have also been front-and-center players for Boston. Their ability to lead and accountability for their own play and that of the team bodes well in Boston’s efforts to make a deep playoff run.
18. BRAD STEVENS
Coaching is coaching, right? We’re about to find out with the NBA tentatively scheduled to resume play next month in Orlando, Fla. With social distancing measures for the bench, no fans and an environment that’s more like practice than an actual playoff game, how Stevens handles this “new-normal” will be a factor in Boston’s return to play.
Boston’s play defensively has been a key to their success. Prior to the season being suspended, Boston’s defensive rating (106.2) ranked fourth in the NBA. It will take most teams some time to get their offensive footing, which could be a major plus for Boston as the season re-starts next month.
20. TACKO FALL
Now that the G-League season has been officially canceled for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season, the Celtics have to figure out what they want to do with 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall. No one questions his improvement from the time he arrived, until now. But with so few games left to play with the playoffs around the corner, his chances of seeing any playing time soon are slim. And besides, if there are no fans in the stands at games, who is going to egg on head coach Brad Stevens to put him in the game?
21. GRANT WILLIAMS
Among his teammates, he’s considered the biggest talker. Will all that talk will come in handy with no fans. Can Williams talk-the-talk well enough to help his teammates? Will he get under the skin of opponents who can’t shut him up?
22. HOTEL CHOICE
With so many teams converging on Disney’s campus in Orlando, Fla., teams won’t be staying at the plush, five and six-star accommodations that they are accustomed to. For a young team like the Boston Celtics, it shouldn’t be that big a deal. Most of the team’s core guys aren’t that removed from their AAU and college basketball days when their lodging wasn’t nearly as ritzy as it is now.