22 NBA teams are back, 22 things Celtics fans need to pay attention to

22 NBA teams are back, 22 things Celtics fans need to pay attention to

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.

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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.


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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. 


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? 


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. 


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. 


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? 


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?  


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. 

Celtics' Kara Lawson accepts Duke women's basketball head coach job

Celtics' Kara Lawson accepts Duke women's basketball head coach job

Kara Lawson indeed won't return for a second season with the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics assistant coach has accepted the Duke women's basketball head coaching job, NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely has confirmed. 

The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn first reported Saturday that Lawson accepted the Duke job, which became available after Blue Devils head coach Joanne McAllie announced last week she wouldn't return for a 14th season.

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Lawson made history last July when the Celtics hired her as the first female assistant coach in franchise history. The former University of Tennessee star and 13-year WNBA veteran -- who also served as an ESPN analyst after her WNBA career -- now can add "head coach" to her impressive basketball résumé.

Lawson also will break a barrier at Duke as the first Black head coach in the women's basketball program's history. If her comments last July are any indication, the Virginia native will work tirelessly to restore the Blue Devils to prominence after they failed to reach the NCAA Tournament in 2019.

"My mindset is being the first to do something is great; I want to be the best," Lawson said after joining the Celtics. “I don’t want to be the best of my gender. I want to be the best in the league."

Enes Kanter Show: C's center gives first impressions of NBA bubble | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Brad Stevens: Celtics will "move very slowly" in Kemba Walker's return to play

Brad Stevens: Celtics will "move very slowly" in Kemba Walker's return to play

Kemba Walker was the latest Boston Celtic to undergo a bit of load management, shortly before the NBA season was suspended on March 12. 

Now that the league is prepared to get things going again later this month, the Celtics remain cautious in their approach to Walker’s return to action. 

“We’re going to move very slowly with Kemba Walker and let him strengthen (the left knee)," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens following the team's first practice in Orlando, Fla. on Friday. "And make sure that he’s all good to go as we enter the seeding games and obviously, the playoffs.”

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Walker, who did some work with the team on Friday, has been among the league's most durable players for most of his NBA career.

But this season, the four-time All-Star has missed 14 games after having missed a total of just six over the four previous seasons combined. Of Boston’s last 10 games prior to the season being suspended on March 12, Walker was out because of left knee issues six times. 

He has talked about the knee being better and healthy, but Walker and the Celtics know all too well the important role that he plays in the team’s chances at making a deep playoff run. 

This is Walker’s first season with the Celtics after signing a four-year, $141 million deal. He began the season as the team’s most potent scorer, but third-year wing Jayson Tatum has emerged as more than just one of the league’s more talented young players. 

Enes Kanter Show: C's center gives first impressions of NBA bubble | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Tatum was named an All-Star for the first time this season, and since the All-Star break a legit case can be made that only a handful of players in the league have been more impressive. 

A healthy Walker gives the Celtics an impressive 1-2 scoring punch that’s complemented by the emergence of Jaylen Brown, who has played at a near All-Star level this season while Gordon Hayward has been about as strong a No. 4 option as you will find on any roster. 

While the time off the court will certainly present a different kind of challenge for the Celtics, the time without games or practices have been a huge benefit for Walker. 

And that benefit is something the Celtics are intent on not squandering, which is why the nice-and-slow approach makes a lot of sense as Walker works his way back into playing major minutes in Boston's quest to go deep into the postseason. 

“I really needed that break,” Walker said recently. “It definitely helped me get back to myself and start to feel comfortable on my knee.

He added, “It was a very unfortunate time but it was in my best interest for sure. I’m going to stay on top of things and take it day by day.”