To paraphrase Larry Bird: 19 home, 19 away. Looks good to me.
OK, so the Celtics’ 2020-21 schedule release is anything but normal this year and even Bird probably wouldn’t be so dismissive of the annual hoopla around the calendar.
The NBA unveiled Boston’s 38-game "first half" schedule on Friday afternoon and it read more like a baseball schedule with limited off-days while highlighted by five instances where the Celtics play the same opponent consecutively at the same venue in a part to limit team travel amid the pandemic.
Boston’s schedule also features six sets of games on back-to-back nights, and all but the final one requires the team to travel between games. The Celtics have only two instances with more than a day off between games over the entire 71-day period of the first half.
The Celtics will be tested out of the gates, especially while playing without Kemba Walker. Six of the team’s first nine games are on the road, this after hosting a double dose of Christmas-week showdowns against two of the East’s most talent-filled teams in Milwaukee and Brooklyn.
Boston spends four days in Indiana after the Christmas holiday — a boon for locals like Brad Stevens but a tough hit for departed Gordon Hayward — and plays the first of its same-city sets against the Pacers (Dec. 27 and 29). A second set follows in Detroit (Jan. 1 and 3). The other sets: vs. Orlando (Jan. 13, 15), at Philadelphia (Jan. 20, 22), vs. Atlanta (Feb. 17, 19).
The Celtics will cross their fingers that Walker is healthy by early February because the schedule is particularly brutal coming out of January. Boston hosts the Lakers in a Saturday night showcase on January 30 then heads west to launch into a five-game road trip against the Warriors, Kings, Clippers, Suns, and Jazz.
All three of Boston’s games against Hayward and the Charlotte Hornets fall in the second half of the season.
Other first-half highlights: The Celtics travel to Miami for a rematch of the East finals on January 6; the Heat visit Boston four days later. Russell Westbrook visits as a member of the Wizards for the first time on Jan. 8. Tristan Thompson plays the Cavaliers for the first time on Jan. 24. Boston visits Zion Williamson and the Pelicans on Feb. 21. The final two games before the first half feature visits from the Clippers and Raptors.
Eighteen of Boston’s first-half games will have a national spotlight and, while we know you’ll be watching on NBC Sports Boston, it highlights the national interest in the green.
The notion that it’s tough to beat the same team twice will be tested this season with the consecutive-game sets. Boston plays Atlanta three times in an eight-day span in February -- it’s practically a playoff series.
The NBA will release the second half of its schedule late in the first half and is leaving itself flexibility to reschedule games if COVID interferes with planned dates.