"It doesn't matter," Doc Rivers said Monday. "At the end of the day, if you're still playing in June, does it really matter who people chose?"
Maybe he's right, but the Celtics have a golden opportunity in Tuesday night's season opener to set the tone for the Eastern Conference race this season. The TD Garden is about to play host to two of the league's best, and when the dust settles, one will emerge as the early favorite to win the East. The Celtics open their season against the vaunted Miami Heat.
When and Where
Heat at Celtics
Tuesday, Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
Head to Head
The Celtics thoroughly dominated the Heat last year, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. They swept the season series 3-0, and they nearly swept the first round of the East playoffs as well. It took a dazzling 46-point effort from Dwyane Wade to stave off elimination in Game 4 of their postseason series but the Celtics won Game 5 at home and convincingly slammed the door on the Heat's postseason.
Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James
Right off the bat, you notice two distinct differences between Pierce's matchup with LeBron last year versus now. One, Pierce is without Tony Allen as a defensive-minded backup that can help him out, and two, LeBron has a pair of stars next to him drawing the Celtics' focus. It's now more important than ever that Pierce stand up to King James on his own. He'll get a little bit of help from the Celtics' quick-rotating team defense, but for the most part, it's all on the C's captain to contain the King. Not only that, but he's got to conserve the energy to be a difference-maker on the offensive end.
Point guard: Rajon Rondo
Shooting guard: Ray Allen
Small forward: Paul Pierce
Power forward: Kevin Garnett
Center: Shaquille O'Neal
Point guard: Carlos Arroyo
Shooting guard: Dwyane Wade
Small forward: LeBron James
Power forward: Chris Bosh
Center: Joel Anthony
- Paul Pierce was the Celtics' leading scorer in preseason action, averaging 14.0 points per game in six exhibition contests. He shot 51.7 percent.
- Rajon Rondo last year broke the Celtics' single-season records for assists (794) and steals (189).
- Kevin Garnett has career averages of 19.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game against the Miami Heat.
- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 81.3 points, 21.9 rebounds and 17.5 assists per game last season.
- James is Cleveland's all-time leading scorer, with 15,241 career points. Wade is Miami's all-time leader, with 11,967. Bosh is Toronto's, with 10,275.
- James, Wade and Bosh will earn a combined $327,240,000 in salary between now and the summer of 2016.
Black and Blue
- Kendrick Perkins is recovering from ACL surgery will be out for several months.
- Jermaine O'Neal has battled hamstring and wrist ailments this preseason. He expects to suit up for Tuesday's opener.
- Semih Erden has experienced shoulder soreness and is inactive Tuesday.
- Avery Bradley will be inactive. He has had a slow recovery from offseason ankle surgery.
- Dwyane Wade sat out this preseason with a strained right hamstring. He will make his return Tuesday.
- Mike Miller has a fractured thumb and will miss 2-3 months.
We know from the start that the Celtics' Big Three will have their hands full with the Heat's younger, equally big leading three. But the C's also know they'll have distinct matchup advantages at the other two positions on the floor. Rajon Rondo will have a chance to shine in Tuesday's opener, as will a pair of Boston centers named O'Neal. This is a star-studded Miami team that Boston's drawn for game one, but the C's have a clear advantage in their depth. The goal will be to outlast, and eventually to outplay, the mighty Heat.