Eleven games are on the schedule on Wednesday night as the NBA season is officially underway. One of those games is a huge Eastern Conference showdown between the Boston Celtics (49-33 last season) and the Philadelphia 76ers (51-31 last season). Both teams have championship expectations and will look to start their seasons off with a win. Here is a preview for Wednesday night’s game, along with odds and a pick.
We’ll start in Boston, which lost its All-Star point guard but replaced him with another. With Kyrie Irving leaving for the Nets after two years in green, the Celtics signed Kemba Walker to a four-year contract. Walker, who has spent his whole eight-year career with the Hornets, joins young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, along with veteran Gordon Heyward, on the Celtics. Boston also signed big man Enes Kanter, who will replace the departed Al Horford in the paint.
Speaking of Horford, the Celtics will see their old friend immediately. Horford signed a contract with the Sixers this offseason and will slide in at power forward next to All-Star Joel Embiid to form one of the best big-man duos in the NBA.
Philadelphia did lose Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with the Heat and J.J. Redick in free agency, but swingman Josh Richardson will step into his new role on the wing as a slasher and shooter. Point guard Ben Simmons is still in the fold, as is Tobias Harris, who was re-signed by Philly in the offseason.
By the Numbers
Under coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have been heralded as one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Last season, Boston finished fourth in steals per game and sixth in defensive rating. Losing Horford may affect their defense down low, but Walker over Irving shouldn’t affect their defense greatly.
They also don’t play at an exceptionally fast pace (16th in 2018-19) but were still a top-10 team in offensive rating, three-point percentage, true shooting percentage, and effective field goal percentage.
As for Philadelphia, its seventh-fastest pace in the league also launched it into the top 10 of all of the offensive stats listed above. The biggest weaknesses, however, were three-point shooting and turnovers. The three-point shooting, which was ranked 19th last year with 10.8 threes made per game, should improve with the additions of Horford and Richardson, and if Simmons has truly developed a jump shot. Turnovers will have to wait and see, but they had the sixth-most last season, compared to the Celtics, who had the third-fewest.
Names To Watch
If you’re a Celtics fan, it’s hard not to be excited about Walker. While some consider Irving to be the more well-rounded player, Walker has always been viewed as a great teammate and leader. Of course, he is plenty capable of scoring the basketball, as last season he averaged a career-high 25.6 points while playing all 82 games. We’ll see how much Walker tries to take over the offense, whether by shooting or setting up his talented teammates.
The 76ers will once again make Embiid the focal point of their offense. Embiid, who has been getting some sneaky MVP love heading into the season, set a career high with 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds a game last year. He also set career highs in field goal and free throw percentages, and now has Horford to aid defensively. While he has yet to play more than 64 games in a season, a 70-plus-game campaign could absolutely put Embiid in the MVP discussion.
Odds & Pick
With the Sixers at home and viewed as the slightly-better team, oddsmakers have them at -5 heading into this game. Both teams have great defenders, and the over/under reflects that, listed at a low 211.5 points.
For this contest, the big men on Philadelphia will make all the difference. Embiid and Horford have a massive size advantage over Tatum and Kanter. The whole Sixers team is lauded for its size and athleticism, presenting a tough matchup for a Boston team, which is good defensively but is somewhat lacking in stature. But I do, however, think Boston’s bench is better and will keep the game close. So I’m picking the 76ers to win, but the Celtics to cover.