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What to know about 2016-17 Celtics schedule

08.15.16 at 10:07 am ET
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Some experts say the Celtics have the easiest schedule in the NBA. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Some experts say the Celtics have the easiest schedule in the NBA. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

With the release of the 2016-17 NBA schedule, the start of what has on paper begun to shape up as one of the most interesting season’s in recent Celtics memory is inching closer and closer.

So what challenges stand in front of the Celtics?

According to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg and a group of other insiders, the Celtics actually have the easiest schedule in the league. Let’s take a look:

Five notable games

Nov. 3 at Cavaliers

What a way to really get the season going. The Celtics’ fifth game of the year will be against the team that is one of the top contenders to stand in their way in the East. Though you’re hard-pressed to say a game at the beginning of November will have a long-term impact of the makeup of the season, this game will be a good jumping off point for the Celtics to see how they stack up against a top team when (most likely) both sides are healthy. What’s more, it will be the second game of a back-to-back, with the C’s squaring off against the Bulls the night before.

Nov. 18 vs. Warriors

A game that needs no explanation, the Celtics’ home matchup against the most highly-touted side going into this season comes a few weeks in. At that point, team identities will have been formed and an indication as to where teams are headed in their seasons should start becoming clear. Oh, and Kevin Durant too. That will be an interesting reception for the prized free agent who snubbed Boston this offseason.

Nov. 25 vs. Spurs

Another measuring stick to how the Celtics compare to top talent, it will also be the first time they see the Spurs without the incessant reminder that they didn’t get Tim Duncan in the 1997 draft.

Jan. 13 at Hawks

The Celtics don’t see the team that bounced them in the first round of the 2016 postseason until mid-January, and it will be on the road as well. For redemption sake, it will be a good matchup to see how they stack up against the new-look Hawks eight months later, but it will also be compelling to see how Al Horford squares off against his former team.

April 5 vs. Cavaliers

The Celtics in a sense bookend their season with the Cavs, and if the season goes in the direction everyone imagines it will, this will be a gargantuan game in terms of postseason preparation. It will be at home with just four more games following and will likely have postseason seeding implications as well.

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Can Terry Rozier build off last season’s playoff opportunity?

08.12.16 at 3:15 pm ET
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Apr 26, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) shoots the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Terry Rozier has made his case for why he deserves an increased role for the Celtics next season (Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

The playoffs provided a glimpse of what could be for Terry Rozier and the Celtics. 

When Brad Stevens turned to the 16th overall pick of the 2015 draft in the April playoff series against the Hawks, the 6-foot-2 rookie did not disappoint.

After averaging only eight minutes in 39 regular season games, Rozier made his presence felt in his first NBA playoff series – averaging 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 19.8 minutes.

He knocked down shots, did a stellar job on defense and most importantly, became the facilitator who Stevens could rely on for valuable minutes.

However, past performances won’t necessarily cement Rozier into the Celtics’ 2016-17 rotation. His opportunity in the playoffs was due in large part to Avery Bradley being unavailable after suffering a right hamstring injury in the Game 1 loss in Atlanta. But Rozier’s skill-set as a pure point guard will certainly increase his chances in becoming one of Stevens’ go-to options off the bench next season.

In a sixth man role, Evan Turner emerged as the team’s secondary facilitator for two years in Boston. As the secondary ball handler, Turner helped keep opposing teams at bay while the starters rested.

Now, with Turner in Portland, many expect Rozier to take on an increased role. He used the Celtics’ Summer League platform to prove why he’s ready to step up to the challenge. Rozier was the team’s MVP this summer – averaging 20 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

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Celtics open Oct. 26 against Nets, visit Knicks on Christmas as part of full 2016-17 schedule

08.11.16 at 6:37 pm ET
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The Celtics went with Jaylen Brown at the third pick. (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

Jaylen Brown makes his Celtics debut on Oct. 26 vs. the Nets. (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics now know their path to a third straight postseason appearance under Brad Stevens. 

The NBA released its full schedule on Thursday and some of the highlights for the Celtics include early matchups against Eastern Conference rivals, holiday season showdowns, and the first home games on consecutive nights in over 15 years. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, Al Horford makes his Celtics debut, joining 2016 All-Star Isaiah Thomas and 2016 first-team All-Defense selection Avery Bradley as they welcome the Brooklyn Nets to TD Garden to tip-off the 2016-17 season. One week later, the Celtics will host Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and the new-look Bulls on Nov. 2 before traveling to Cleveland the next night for their first encounter with LeBron James and the 2016 NBA champion Cavaliers.

Later in the month, Celtics fans get their chance to let Kevin Durant know how much he disappointed them and Tom Brady when he, Stephen Curry and the Warriors come calling on Friday, Nov. 18, at TD Garden.

The Celtics have holiday home games this year with a matinee matchup against LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 25, and a Friday night tilt against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on Dec. 23. The Celtics also play on Christmas Day for the first time in four seasons, when they travel to New York to face off against Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and the Knicks.

The team will host home games on consecutive nights against Ben Simmons and the 76ers on Friday, Jan. 6 before taking on Anthony Davis and the Pelicans on Saturday, Jan. 7, marking the first time the Celtics have hosted home games on consecutive days since the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season.

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Isaiah Thomas wants to prove he’s ‘just as good as any other point guard in the NBA’

08.11.16 at 11:27 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas has had a busy summer. From recruiting Kevin Durant, to jet-setting to China to handing out ice cream at Faneuil Hall, the Celtics point guard has hardly been off this offseason.

In an interview with Celtics.com on Wednesday, Thomas talked about his trip to China, the team’s No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown, and what else he’s been doing this offseason when not recruiting, flying or giving away ice cream.

For the full interview, click here.

The 27-year-old went to Beijing as part of NBA Cares, an initiative to help continue to grow the game. He was joined by Karl-Anthony Townes of the Timberwolves as well as Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers. While there, they hosted clinics, meet-and-greets and NBA Finals viewing parties.

“It was a blessing to be able to be considered to go. Once they asked me to go I definitely wanted to see Beijing and what it was like,” Thomas said. “I’ve been to China before but it was definitely a smaller, but it was a good experience. I was hoping to meet Yao Ming but I didn’t get to, but it was nice to be in China and experience their culture a little bit.”

In his All-Star 2015-16 season in which he played in all 82 games (while starting 79), Thomas admittedly was a little banged up when the season concluded with their first round departure at the hands of the Hawks. As a result, he cited that he gave himself a little bit of time away from basketball at the start of the offseason.

“The first four to six weeks of offseason I didn’t play basketball, my body was hurting,” he said. “I needed some injuries to heal in my body so I really relaxed, spent time with my family, my kids and watched the playoffs so that was my biggest thing. Now I’m back working out, I’m healthy and I’m trying to just continue to get better each and every day so I can get ready for the season.”

Added Thomas on how the team plans to get better: “Work. Continue to work, continue to get better. Don’t be satisfied with what we did cause honestly we felt like we came up short, we felt like — give credit to Atlanta — but we felt like we could’ve beat them.”

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Read More: Al Horford, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown

Celtics reportedly to play Knicks in New York on Christmas Day

08.11.16 at 10:21 am ET
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Even with temperatures in the 90s in the dead of August, it’s not to early to start thinking about Christmas, and it appears the Celtics will be decking the halls of Madison Square Garden on December 25.

According to a report from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the Celtics and Knicks will be one of five games to be played on Christmas, with the Warriors and and Cavs set to tangle in a NBA Finals rematch, per ESPN’s Marc Stein.

The Celtics haven’t played on Christmas Day since 2012, when they ran through Brooklyn on the road 93-76. For reference, Rajon Rando was the leading scorer with 19 points, Kevin Garnett grabbed 10 boards and Paul Pierce had 10 assists. The Celtics still have had less than favorable results on the holiday posting an overall record of 12-17 on Christmas.

The Celtics/Knicks matchup will feature some new faces tossed into the Boston/New York rivalry with Celtics’ addition of Al Horford and the Knicks’ addition of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

The league generally schedules the games based on how a team stands in terms of their marketability, so don’t be surprised to see the Heat, Lakers, Clippers or Bulls (all of whom played on Christmas last season) potentially get thrown into the mix this year.

Read More: Al Horford, Celtics, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah

Ray Allen has contacted Celtics about a potential comeback

08.09.16 at 6:58 pm ET
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Jan 27, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) warms up prior to a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Allen played five seasons (2007-2013) with the Celtics (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Former Celtics shooting star Ray Allen has been in contact with team officials about making a potential comeback in Boston.

In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Allen says he’s spoken with two of his former teams about making a possible return — the Celtics — where he won his first NBA championship — and the Bucks — the team that drafted him back in 1996.

“I would love going back to those places if it worked out,” Allen told the paper, “because both teams are good, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be championship-or-bust for me to go back to the NBA.

“I want to be in a situation where I thought I could help, play a little bit and help where they have good young talent.”

Allen, who was a member of the Celtics’ new ‘Big 3’ alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, helped lead the team to an NBA championship in 2008. He last played for the Celtics in 2012 before he turned down a two-year contract to stay in Boston and signed with the rival Miami Heat for less money — a move that some C’s fans deemed as unforgivable at the time.

Allen went on to win his second NBA title with the Heat in 2013 before losing to the Spurs in the finals the following year — which ended up being his last season in the NBA.

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Celtics could use R.J. Hunter’s 3-point touch

08.04.16 at 9:04 am ET
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Dec 26, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens talks to guard R.J. Hunter (28) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

R.J. Hunter will be fighting for playing time from Celtics coach Brad Stevens. (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)

Could 2016-17 be R.J. Hunter’s breakout season?

We’ve seen Hunter’s outside shot look very promising in exhibition and summer league games, but we’ve yet to see him put it together on a consistent level during the regular season.

The Celtics have been in dire need of a knockdown 3-point shooter since the departure four years ago of Ray Allen — a player who opponents constantly had to cover at the arc. Last season the Celtics finished with the third-worst 3-point shooting in the league (35 percent, better than only the Grizzlies and Lakers). Hunter’s outside touch certainly could help boost them into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, but he’s going to have to earn a spot in Brad Stevens’ rotation first.

Hunter, 22, played in 36 regular-season games last season, shooting 30 percent from behind the arc in only 8.8 minutes a night. In a crowded backcourt, it was hard for Stevens to find playing time for the rookie — who was behind Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner on the depth chart. But with Turner out of the picture (now playing for the Trail Blazers), his minutes will be up for grabs.

Hunter, coming off being a star in college at Georgia State, said last season’s transition to the pro game matured him.

“I’ve always played, so I had to kind of see the game from another angle,” Hunter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I have a better appreciation for team ball, for winning and for just being on the court. I remember at the end I just wanted to be on the court to be a part of a win. It was humbling.”

In the playoffs, Stevens turned to Hunter for offense after losing Bradley (hamstring) at the end of Game 1 — and eventually the entire series — and Hunter responded with abysmal performances. He shot 22 percent from the floor, including 20 percent from deep, and averaged a single point in 8.4 minutes. Making matters worse, Hunter couldn’t keep up with the Hawks on defense — he was late closing out on Kent Bazemore and caught behind screens in trying to cover Kyle Korver.

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