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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:01 PM

Tuesday's Essentials

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Philadelphia at Boston (-4.5, 209), TNT, 8:05 ET

Although Kawhi Leonard’s arrival in Toronto does nothing but strengthen the reigning Atlantic Division champs as long as he stays healthy and remains on board, both Boston and Philadelphia are eyeing that Eastern Conference title too and know a No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage would come in handy.

The quest to rise to the top begins in a season opener that will feature the return of Gordon Hayward for the Celtics and Markelle Fultz making his first career start.

Those variables alone make this game a difficult one to handicap, especially since you can rely on very little you saw in the preseason as a reference point. One of the few things that do prove reliable is form in terms of a player’s comfort level. Hayward has been moving around without a hint of the devastating injury suffered in last year’s injury. He fractured his tibia and dislocated his ankle, undergoing multiple surgeries. The fact you can’t tell is a huge victory, but he’s going to be brought along with a minute restriction of 25-30 and isn’t a lock to be on the floor to finish games.




Kyrie Irving most certainly will be out there, having healed up and pledged his loyalty to the Celtics over the past few weeks despite the fact he’ll be a free agent this summer. “I’m ready to kill,” was how he responded to whether he’s ready for the season after multiple knee surgeries. He’s got Terry Rozier to play safety net, at least for now. The popular backup and Boston couldn’t agree in a contract extension, increasing the possibility he’ll be dealt in season.

Brown, Tatum, Markieff Morris and Al Horford return up front, but the Celtics also have their plus-size options to help contend with Joel Embiid. Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis are healthy again, while rookie first-round pick Robert Williams has been lauded for his post defense and has the necessary length and athleticism to challenge Philly’s big man.

Philadelphia will have its core in place for this one and has already announced that Fultz will start ahead of JJ Redick in the first half but come off the bench in the second behind the veteran. The 76ers added frontcourt depth over the offseason but may not get to unveil it tonight. Veteran small forward Wilson Chandler (hamstring) has been ruled out and Mike Muscala (ankle), who was signed to fill the void of losing Ersan Ilyasova in free agency, will be a game-time decision.

Point guard Ben Simmons (neck) and forward Dario Saric (back) have been dealing with nagging issues but both should be good to go. The 76ers finished 22-19 on the road last season and won the last regular-season meeting between these teams at TD Garden by an 89-80 count. Irving missed that game, and Philly lost all three times he was in the fold for Boston, including a game where he torched them for 36 points.

Embiid got off for 26 points and 16 rebounds in Philly’s lone regular-season win and really struggled in the losses, so keeping him from finding a rhythm will be Boston’s priority. He was more consistent in the playoffs, but the Celtics still did enough against him and Simmons to advance in the Eastern Conference finals 4-1.

Tatum, whose development will be a huge x-factor in the East this season, led Boston in scoring in four of the five playoff games. Saric emerged late in the series, averaging 26 points over the last two games and leading the way in the lone win, a 103-92 result in Philly. The 76ers dropped all three games in Boston, surrendering an average of 113 points per game in those setbacks.

The Celtics were a perfect 7-0 against the 76ers when topping the century mark, but the 76ers don’t figure to slow the game down. Boston launched 32 or more 3-pointers in five of the last seven meetings and shot fewer free-throws, electing not to challenge Embiid. The total has been set at 209.

Oklahoma City at Golden State (-13.5, 220.5), TNT, 10:35 ET

Complacency may be the only thing keeping the Warriors from opening their final season in Oakland’s Oracle Arena in style with a rout of one of their top challengers.

Unfortunately for the NBA-viewing public, the Thunder won't have Russell Westbrook out there. The All-Star point guard is coming back from knee surgery he underwent on Sept. 12 and hadn’t been cleared to play. Although he’s known for being the league’s ironman thanks to his motor and how hard he goes every second he’s out there, OKC taking the cautious approach with its franchise player is no surprise.

Westbrook is known for attacking Game 30 with the same intensity as an elimination game in the playoffs, but it would've been foolish for him to go out there with such limited practice time after not being cleared for contact entering this past weekend. Oklahoma City envisions newcomer Dennis Schroder taking some pressure off him, so that process is simply going to begin earlier than anticipated with him joining the starting lineup. The talented German guard has been at the controls all preseason.

Center Steven Adams is nursing a back issue and is listed as a game-time decision, so there’s a possibility he’ll be out as well. The Thunder aren’t scheduled to play again until visiting the Clippers on Friday, so rest may be the preferred option with the regular-season starting so early and being such a marathon.

Top defender Andre Roberson is still sidelined as he tries on the team’s game notes, but wings Terrance Ferguson (concussion) and Abdel Nader (knee) are likely to play. Young wings Alex Abrines and Hamidou Diallo could also be in the mix, while Nerlens Noel and Patrick Patterson would man the middle if Adams can't go. Given the opponent, we could see the Thunder simply go small. There was talk to Durant could play a little five for Golden State as is.

Those champs you love to hate won’t have DeMarcus Cousins available for months, just in case you weren’t clear on that. He may be ready to go before Christmas, but I wouldn’t imagine he’ll play until into 2019 to ensure he’s 100 percent given the role he’s being called upon to play and his desire to impress and re-enter free agency this summer.

The Warriors are also dealing with a few issues to be wary of. Steve Kerr is likely to play Draymond Green fewer minutes than he’d typically play as he tries to regain his conditioning after intentionally not picking up a basketball for seven weeks in order to decompress and get himself ready for an other grind. Shaun Livingston is questionable with a foot issue. Wing Patrick McCaw remains away from the team, unhappy with his contract situation.

This spread is large and predictably grew once word on Westbrook became official. It opened at 11.5 and is moving towards 14 as the news that OKC’s star guard is unlikely to play trickles out. Similarly, the total has dwindled from 224 to 220.5 and is still decreasing.



Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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