NBA First Half Awards
With the season just over halfway done, let's look at the major awards. Feel free to disagree but it's James Hardens world right now and we're just living in it.
The NBA released its full schedule for the 2018-19 season on Friday. The Boston Celtics, the purported favorites in the Eastern Conference, play 27 nationally televised games this season.
Here are the five most compelling matchups for the Celtics:
Despite finishing in first in the East last regular season, the Toronto Raptors were an after-thought in conference championship conversation—that was until they acquired Kawhi Leonard. When healthy, Leonard is one of the best players in the league. Leonard, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Finals MVP, gives the Raptors hope in winning the East.
A Raptors-Celtics Eastern Conference Finals is a realistic possibility.
Isaiah Thomas, who signed a one-year veteran’s minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets, will finally make his long-awaited return to TD Garden. Thomas, a two-time All-Star with the Celtics, finished fifth in MVP voting in his final year in Boston (2016-17) and was selected to the All-NBA Second Team. He spent two-plus seasons with the team, before being dealt in the summer of 2017 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Thomas did not get the chance to play in Boston last year. The Cavs visited the Celtics last January and the game fell on the second night of a back-to-back for Cleveland—directly following his comeback from his hip injury—when he wasn't permitted to play on consecutive days. He sat out that contest and then got traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, who had already made their only visit to Boston earlier in the year, denying Thomas the chance to play at TD Garden in 2017-18.
Although his tenure with Boston was brief, he left his mark in the franchise record books. Remarkably, he is the all-time leader in points per game (24.7) in team history—albeit in a small sample size (179 regular season games played with Boston).
LeBron James defeated the Celtics in consecutive postseasons with the Cavs. After signing with the Lakers in the offseason, he will now be entrenched in the most storied rivalry in league history.
Kyrie Irving versus James brings fireworks. Add in that former Celtics star Rajon Rondo joined Los Angeles in the offseason and the storylines are off-the-charts in this contest.
Opening night turned disastrous for the Celtics last year when Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury in the first five minutes at Cleveland.
The Celtics begin their season in Boston this time around and face off against a familiar foe in the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics easily dispatched the 76ers in the Conference Semifinals in five games last postseason, despite playing without All-Stars Irving and Hayward for the entire series.
Though Philly was no match for the short-handed Celtics, the series was filled with emotions and physical play between two teams that could play each other in the postseason for the foreseeable future.
The Celtics-76ers rivalry has been revitalized and is rightfully the first televised matchup of the NBA season.
The two-time defending champion Warriors make their lone regular-season visit to Boston on a Saturday night. Irving renews his rivalry with Stephen Curry, as does Kevin Durant with the city of Boston. A potential NBA Finals preview, this is undoubtedly the must-see Celtics game of the year.