The Celtics will begin defense of their Eastern Conference crown with a home game against the 76ers Oct. 18 that also will be one of two Bill Russell tribute games, the NBA announced Wednesday.
The Celtics will wear special uniforms that the Hall of Fame center, who died July 31 at the age of 88, worked with the team on creating. The Celtics will host a second tribute night against the Grizzlies Feb. 12, Russell’s birthday.
The schedule features plenty of high-profile matchups. The Celtics will face the Bucks at TD Garden on Christmas, and they will play the Warriors in San Francisco Dec. 10 and in Boston Jan. 19 in rematches of last season’s NBA Finals.
Here are seven games you won’t want to miss:
At Brooklyn, Dec. 4: Kevin Durant’s trade request clearly rattled the schedule-makers, too. But that was a mistake. First of all, a Kyrie Irving-Ben Simmons backcourt would have plenty of juice, and if the Nets trade Durant, they’d almost certainly get at least one substantial player in return, in addition to the boatload of draft picks. But mainly, training camp is about one month away, and Durant is still a Net.
The NBA Finals certainly had plenty of buzz because of the stage and the high-profile opponent, but as of now, the juice created by Celtics-Nets remains unmatched. This should have been the Christmas game, but these teams were going to play four times regardless.
At Golden State, Dec. 10: It remains to be seen whether the Celtics’ Finals appearance against Golden State was the start of a special rivalry, or whether they will be simply another team that was pushed aside by the Warriors dynasty.
Celtics forward Grant Williams spiced things up a bit this summer when he declared that the Celtics were actually the more talented team last June. The Warriors pay attention to a surprising amount of outside noise and use it as fuel, and they surely heard Williams.
Celtics beat reporters breathed a sigh of relief when this was not scheduled for Christmas Day in San Francisco.
Vs. Philadelphia, Oct. 18: The 76ers quietly had a productive offseason, adding veterans P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, and Danuel House.
But the biggest boost might come from James Harden, who appears to be fully focused on a title. He left some money on the table by signing a two-year, $68.6 million deal this summer, and appears to be in better shape than he was last year.
Oh, Philadelphia also has one of the game’s elite talents and trolls in center Joel Embiid.
These two teams probably have the rowdiest fan bases in the NBA, and Boston will get the first shot when the squads meet at TD Garden on opening night.
Vs. Milwaukee, Dec. 25: Even though these teams have had some fascinating battles in recent years and are best positioned to remain atop the Eastern Conference for years, this matchup doesn’t really have the sizzle that it should. Maybe it’s because Giannis Antetokounmpo is such a likable superstar.
Nevertheless, the Celtics have heard the rumblings that they advanced past Milwaukee in last season’s conference semifinals only because All-Star forward Khris Middleton was out with an injury. This will be an early chance to show that they are the superior squad.
Vs. LA Lakers, Jan. 28: Sure, the Lakers missed the playoffs last season, but this is still one of the best rivalries in sports, and LeBron James, perhaps the greatest player of all time, still plays for Los Angeles. This one gets the ABC Saturday prime time treatment, with an 8:30 p.m. tip.
At Miami, Oct. 21: If Jimmy Butler’s 3-pointer in the final seconds of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals had gone in, the narrative surrounding the Celtics season would have shifted quite a bit. Instead, the Celtics marched on and tested the Warriors.
Butler turns 33 next month and Kyle Lowry is 36, so this feels like Miami’s last chance to be a true conference contender as currently constructed.
Vs. Utah, March 31: It took Ime Udoka just one year to start sprouting branches off his coaching tree, as assistant Will Hardy was plucked by former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to lead the Jazz. Like Udoka, Hardy is a rising star, and both coaches will want to secure early bragging rights here.
See the full schedule here: