Boston Celtics: The Five Toughest Games for the C's in October and November
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Now that we are basically past the free agency period, the talk around the league is less focused on speculation and more on what each team has to offer.
The Boston Celtics have made their share of moves, re-signing every core player with the exception of Ray Allen, while picking up role players in Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jason Collins, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
This team seems ready to put the failures of last season behind them and contend for an NBA title in 2013.
However, before we can talk about basketball that will be played in May and June, the Celtics need to get past November, the first month of the season.
Here are the five toughest games in the early going for the Boston Celtics.
No. 5: Celtics at Chicago Bulls
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Date: November 12, 8:00 EST
Remember, a Rose-less Bulls team did beat the Celtics late in the season at home 93-86, in a game that Boston played their major rotation players for the majority of the game.
Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer give the Bulls an elite frontcourt that can be absolutely lethal if Boozer is rolling offensively.
Chicago will likely start Kirk Hinrich over recently-drafted Marquis Teague at the point, as he is a solid distributor and one of the better defenders in the league at his position.
Their weakness still lies at the 2, where either Richard Hamilton or Jimmy Butler will get the starting job. Also, their bench has been further weakened by the losses of Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and CJ Watson.
Keeping all of this in mind, I see the Celtics coming out on top in this one by 5-10 points.
No. 4: Celtics at Brooklyn Nets
Date: November 15, 8:00 EST
This game will mark the Celtics' first trip to the recently-built Barclays Center, which will be the home of the Brooklyn Nets.
For the first time in almost a decade, the Nets are a legitimate playoff contender, with their "Core Four" of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez.
Throw in role players like Kris Humphries, Euroleague scoring champion Mirza Teletovic, MarShon Brooks and Jeremy Evans, and Brooklyn looks like a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
What is even scarier is the prospect that the Nets could acquire Dwight Howard from the Magic, which would likely pair a top-five point guard in Williams with the best big man in the league in Howard.
However, it is impossible for the Nets to acquire D-12 at this point, because recently-signed Lopez and Humphries can only be traded on January 15th.
Even so, I see the Nets winning this contest because they have a lot more to prove than the Celtics at this point in the season.
No. 3: Celtics vs. San Antonio Spurs
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Date: November 21, 7:30 EST
What adds more salt in their wounds is the fact that both had leads at critical points during each series, but were unable to put their opponents away.
San Antonio returns everyone in the hopes of reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. The Spurs have garnered the top seed in the Western Conference for the past two seasons, but have only one Conference Finals berth to show of it.
With a veteran core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and one of the deepest and best benches in the league, San Antonio will be a threat once more to the Thunder.
The Spurs also have Gregg Popovich, the best head coach in the league, and an elite general manager in R.C. Buford, both of whom have kept the small-market team contenders for the past decade.
Boston lost a tight contest at home to the Spurs last April 87-86 and I think the C's will extract revenge against this elite Western Conference foe in a 3 point win.
No. 2: Celtics vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Date: November 23, 7:30 EST
After facing San Antonio two nights before, the Oklahoma City Thunder will pay a visit to the C's in a highly-anticipated game between two of the NBA's best.
The reigning Western Conference champion Thunder were close to realizing their dream of being NBA champions, losing in five close games in the Finals to the Miami Heat.
Kevin Durant and company will play this season with a chip on their shoulders, as they do not want to experience the heartbreak of falling short once more.
A mini-storyline within this game is the return of Kendrick Perkins to Boston. Perk was a fan-favorite in Beantown and the anchor of Boston's paint during his tenure with the team.
The biggest matchup to watch is Russell Westbrook vs. Rajon Rondo, two of the best point guards in the league, who play completely differently. While Rondo is a pass-first point guard, Westbrook is an elite scorer early in his career.
The Thunder's run-and-gun offensive scheme will terrorize the Celtics and Oklahoma City will win this game by seven to eight points.
No. 1: Celtics at Miami Heat
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Date: October 30, 8 EST
The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics is the biggest rivalry and draw in the NBA right now. Both teams hate each other and will do anything to come out on top.
This was evident in the Eastern Conference Finals, when Rajon Rondo called out Heat players for whining to referees.
Adding further bad blood to the mix is the fact that former Celtics starting shooting guard Ray Allen decided to take his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat for half the annual salary that the Celtics were offering.
Even with all of these external storylines, this matchup is great for any basketball fan. The Heat and Celtics are polar opposite in terms of offensive scheming and this clash of styles shows how diverse the NBA game has become.
With the Celtics watching the Heat get their championship rings and LeBron James finally being crowned king, look for Boston to play as hard as they can to win this game.
Add in the fact that champions usually struggle in their first game out, and I see the Celtics winning by 5-10 points in front of a pro-Miami crowd.