BOSTON (CBS) — Barring any unforeseen circumstances — which, unfortunately, have been popping up quite frequently over the last few months — NBA basketball will be back at the end of July. There are still details to iron out, but it appears 22 teams will head down to Disney World to finish off the regular season before duking it out in the playoffs.
After a nearly three-month hiatus, both players and fans are eagerly awaiting the league’s return. For the Celtics, everyone is anxious to see what kind of noise a surprisingly great regular season team can make in the postseason. With Kemba Walker leading the charge at point guard and youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown rising to star status, the Celtics were 43-21 when play halted in mid-March. Their offense was one of the best of the Brad Stevens era, and their 106.2 defensive rating was good for fourth-best in the NBA.
The Celtics currently sit third in the Eastern Conference, three games back of the Toronto Raptors for the two-seed and 2.5 games up on the Miami Heat. They could still climb — or fall — a bit ahead of the postseason, making that eight-game tuneup a pretty important stretch ahead of the playoffs.
With all teams playing in Disney, there will be no home-court advantage the rest of the way. It’s an intriguing wrinkle that will make the rest of the 2019-20 campaign a unique one, and Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck says it could give his team an advantage when the league tips off again.
“Speaking straightforwardly, we hadn’t proved ourselves to be the very, very best. We proved ourselves to be a playoff team, the third spot in the East right now,” Grousbeck told WBZ-TV Dan Roche on Sunday’s Sports Final. “Anything that shakes it up a bit makes it a little more even without home-court, that could really work to our advantage.”
Grousbeck said the long layoff will affect all teams, so if there is a disadvantage, everyone will feel it.
“I think we’re all going down feeling a little disadvantaged; the guys haven’t played for a long time. We’re just going to see what happens,” he said.
Grousbeck is always seen cheering on the C’s in his court-side seats, one of the most passionate owners in the game. He’ll be making the trip to Florida to make sure there is some Celtic Pride at the games, but he’s a bit disappointed that fans won’t be along for the ride in Disney.
“I’m really bummed by it. I mean, I’m not happy about it. I love being in our home arena, obviously the Boston fans are literally the best,” he said. “But it’s really fun to go win on the road. It’s really tough to go lose on the road, but just the intensity of being on the road in the playoffs is unforgettable. You’re out there and you’re sort of warriors together, back to back, and then you come home and everybody’s going crazy for you when you make a basket. It’s so much fun to have the fans with us. We want to get back to the fans as soon as we can.”
While a return to action is on people’s minds, it’s not what has been the focus on the Celtics recently. Grousbeck said they have some very serious discussions regarding the social injustices and racial inequality that have plagued the country, including a two-hour town hall discussion last week. Grousbeck has been proud to see players Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier participate in protests for change.
“Being part of the Celtics means something and it means you have to do your best to uphold the tradition that the great ones put in place: Walter Brown, Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Casey Jones, Satch Sanders, and on and on and on. It started with all of the civil rights and equality milestones set by the Celtics: First black player drafted, first black coach, first black starting five,” said Grousbeck. “The Celtics stand first — not among equals or behind — so that’s how we feel about racial relations and doing the right thing.
“We’re very serious about it. Words are not enough,” added Grousbeck. “We’re not trying to give everyone a lecture, but we’re trying to be an example and do the right thing and try to make a difference.”