The Celtics open up preseason play with a visit from the Orlando Magic.
It’s hard to predict the starting lineup for the first preseason game. I’ve taken a guess at the lineups for both teams but there are several other directions that both teams can go in with their starters. The Celtics could go with a double big lineup with Al Horford at power forward and Rob Williams at center. Or, they could go with Payton Pritchard, Dennis Schroder, or Josh Richardson instead of Aaron Nesmith. As I said, this is only a guess.
Whoever starts, Coach Udoka has said not to read too much into it, as he will be trying different lineups in the preseason before settling on his starters and rotation for the season. It’s pretty certain that Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be starters. Al Horford has made a good case for starting so far in practices, but center is still up in the air. Also that 5th starter is a question mark right now.
The Magic are in a full on rebuild, having traded Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic last season. They feature Jalen Suggs, who was the 5th pick in this year’s draft and Franz Wagner, who was the 8th pick. They have brought in a few veterans in Robin Lopez, Gary Harris, Michael Carter-Williams, and E’Twaun Moore to mix with their young prospects.
Of course, either one or both coaches can go with a totally unexpected starting lineup and start players who will likely be coming off the bench in the regular season. In the first game of the preseason, the Lakers and Nets both went with this approach with LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Joe Harris all sitting that one out. So, we may see a starting lineup that doesn’t include any of the expected starters.
Both teams have new, first time head coaches. The Celtics brought in Ime Udoka who spent 7 years under Greg Popovich in San Antonio and one year in both Philly and Brooklyn as an assistant before joining the Celtics. Jamahl Mosley spent 7 years with Dallas under Rick Carlisle and then 4 years with the Cavaliers and 5 years with Denver as an assistant before joining the Magic.
The Magic have 2 young, promising players who will very likely be in the starting lineup at some point in the season but who won’t be playing in the preseason. Markelle Fultz suffered a torn ACL in January last season and will be out until at least December. Jonathan Isaac tore his ACL in the Bubble and missed the entire 2020/21 season. He will likely be back some time early in this season but won’t play in this game. Michael Carter-Williams had surgery on his ankle in August and will also miss this game. Chuma Okeke has been dealing with soreness in his hip and is also out for this game.
The Celtics have started training camp fairly healthy and according to the coach most are in great shape. Juwan Morgan is a little banged up and is expected to miss this game as he hasn’t practiced with the team as yet. Grant Williams was reported as questionable on Sunday with a right foot sprain but as of Monday morning was listed as available.
Possible Celtics Starters
Juwan Morgan (rest) out
Grant Williams (foot) available
Possible Magic Starters
Jonathan Isaac (knee) out
Markelle Fultz (knee) out
Michael Carter Williams (ankle) out
Chuma Okeke (hip) out
What to Watch For in this Game
We really can’t take much from the first game of the preseason. There are, however, things on the Celtics we can watch for.
Pace – The Celtics were 20th last season in pace and new coach Ime Udoka has said that he is hoping to up the pace this season. Watch for the rebounder to bring the ball up the court and not look for the point guard every time. Also watch for them to make quicker decisions to catch and shoot, catch and pass, or catch and move and less ball stopping.
Defense – After being top 4 in defense in previous years, the Celtics dropped to middle of the pack last season. They seemed to lose their edge and allowed way too many easy baskets. Ime Udoka has said that he wants to focus on defense and the Celtics have several very good defenders on the team. It would be nice to see the team get back to playing lock down defense once again.
Aggressiveness – Too often last season, the Celtics allowed themselves to be out-played by other teams. They lost that swagger and edge that allowed them to beat a lot of talented teams in previous seasons. Players and coach alike have said that they want to play hard and to regain their swagger and aggressive style of play.
Improvement – You can’t tell much about the rotation from the first preseason game, but we can watch individual players and look for improvements in each. They have all had a full offseason and training camp and have all worked on different areas and hopefully we will see the results of what they have worked on this summer.
Players to Watch
Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Aaron Nesmith
We get our first look at Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson in Celtic green and it will be good to see how they fit with the team. Both have a lot of incentive to have a good season and to rebound from a down season last year. Also, the Celtics will need to see improvement from Aaron Nesmith and hopefully we will see the results of his hard work this off season.
Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Cole Anthony
The Magic will be looking to see what they have in Jalen Suggs, the 5th pick in this year’s draft. They also will be watching Franz Wagner, the 8th pick in this year’s draft. They also will be looking for improvement from their talented 2nd year player, Cole Anthony.
We may or may not see any of the Celtics core players in this game. If they do play, they shouldn’t see big minutes in this game. Both coaches will be looking to see which lineups work best and they will also be looking at the camp invites to see if any will be kept or given a 2-way contract as both teams have one 2-way spot left. Let’s hope for a good game with good chemistry, a fast pace, lock down defense and no injuries.