With the new NBA season almost upon us, expectations rise again for a Celtics team in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference.
The Celtics are at full strength for the first time since exactly one year ago. Who can forget the heartbreak that was the 2017 season opener when Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific, season-ending injury to his left ankle? The team was still able to make a memorable 2017-2018 season with a young and energetic roster, only to lose leader Kyrie Irving to injury on a previously surgically repaired knee. The only good thing that came out of two injured starters was that Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier developed at higher levels.
I expect the Celtics to raise their regular-season wins total to around 60-65 games this year. Boston went 53-29 last year, and 60 games is very achievable if everyone stays healthy.
I expect Irving to be in the running, if not the favorite, for regular season MVP – upping his points-per-game from 23.8 to 26.8 and assists-per-game from 3.5 to 6.5.
I also expect Hayward to have a career-high stat line this season and take a bigger leadership role next to Irving. Tatum has the potential for a solid sophomore season, but could take a slight dip in scoring and minutes now that the Celtics are a more complete team. Rozier has the capability of having a Sixth Man of the Year-type season coming off the bench. Al Horford, a Celtics staple for the past few seasons, should continue to provide valuable points and rebounds.
Some of those expectations may seem ambitious, but rightfully so. Do not forget the Celtics are the obvious favorites to win the East this year with LeBron James now playing for the Lakers.
The Cavs lack direction with an aging Kevin Love as their team’s No. 1. The 76ers could have a good season, but will most likely fold under pressure come playoff time. Boston typically finds a way to edge out the Raptors when it matters, so I’m not too worried about them. Still, Kawhi Leonard could be trouble if he ever finds his role with Toronto. The Wizards will not be a legitimate threat, to be straightforward.
One team that could surprise some teams and win some close games is the Miami Heat. Never sleep on Dwyane Wade, especially in his farewell tour where he will definitely leave it all out on the court every chance he gets.
The Celtics should win the East with a gentleman’s sweep of 4-1 against whoever their opponent may be on their way to make the NBA Finals interesting again. The key is to stay healthy, use the talented bench to their advantage and most importantly stay humble during success.
This is a big year for Celtics fans with high expectations and reachable goals. Opening night is Tuesday against the 76ers. Circle November 13 vs. the Cavaliers (first meeting), February 2 against the Lakers (only regular-season meeting), and April 3 vs. the Heat (their last regular season meeting) as my recommended games to watch.
Good luck to the competition and go Celtics!