Let the battle for East Group C begin.
No, you didn't stumble upon an article about the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. We're talking about the first annual NBA in-season tournament, which will tip off in November and feature all 30 teams participating in a soccer-style competition.
The tournament works like this: The league is split into six groups of five, with each team playing four designated "Group Play" games against each of its group opponents. Those contests also count as regular-season games, and the NBA announced dates and times for designated Group Play games Tuesday.
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Here's the Celtics' Group Play slate for East Group C, where they'll face the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls:
At first glance, Boston should be heavily favored to win this group: The Nets are the only other team that made the playoffs in 2023 as a No. 6 seed, and that was thanks in part to two superstars (Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) who left the team in February. But if you're expecting a cakewalk, we'll remind you that the Celtics went 1-3 against the lowly Magic last season.
Here's a quick breakdown of Boston's four Group C opponents, including the Celtics' record against them in 2022-23 and any key additions these teams made this offseason.
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2022-23 record, rank in East: 45-37, No. 6 (swept by Philadelphia 76ers in first round)
Celtics' 2022-23 record vs. Nets: 3-1
Players added via free agency or trade: Darius Bazley, Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker IV, Trendon Watford
Notable draft picks: Noah Clowney (No. 21 overall), Dariq Whitehead (No. 22)
Players lost to free agency or trade: Seth Curry (signed with Mavericks), Joe Harris (traded to Pistons), Edmond Sumner (waived), Yuta Watanabe (signed with Suns)
The arrow is pointing down in Brooklyn. After dealing Durant and Irving at last season's trade deadline, the Nets parted with two sharpshooters this offseason (Curry and Harris) while entrusting the team to Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie and Cameron Johnson. That's not exactly Durant, Irving and James Harden.
Brooklyn will play hard for head coach Jacque Vaughn and may flirt with a playoff spot if players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Walker and Cam Thomas can provide consistent offensive production. But this team's ceiling is the play-in tournament.
2022-23 record, rank in East: 41-41, No. 9 (lost to Chicago in East play-in tournament)
Celtics' 2022-23 record vs. Raptors: 4-0
Players added via free agency or trade: Jalen McDaniels, Dennis Schroder
Notable draft picks: Gradey Dick (No. 13)
Players lost to free agency or trade: Fred VanVleet (signed with Rockets), Dalano Banton (signed with Celtics)
Change is afoot in Toronto, where VanVleet bolted for Houston and All-Star Pascal Siakam has been the subject of persistent trade talks. Schroder is a downgrade from VanVleet, while O.G. Anunoby is the only key contributor outside Siakam from Toronto's 2019 title team.
Nick Nurse made a habit of overachieving with rosters devoid of superstars, but first-year head coach Darko Rajakovic will have big shoes to fill. It will be a surprise if the Raptors are in playoff contention -- especially if Siakam lands elsewhere.
2022-23 record, rank in East: 40-42, No. 10 (Beat Raptors and lost to Heat in East play-in tournament)
Celtics' 2022-23 record vs. Bulls: 2-2
Players added via free agency or trade: Jevon Carter, Torrey Craig
Notable draft picks: N/A
Players lost to free agency or trade: Patrick Beverley (signed with Sixers)
Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig are fine pickups, and the latter should provide some backcourt stability with Lonzo Ball expected to miss another full season. DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic will ensure Chicago isn't among the East cellar-dwellers.
That said, the East is simply too talented to view the Bulls as a legitimate playoff contender. The more likely scenario is that Chicago, Toronto and Brooklyn are jockeying for positioning in the play-in tournament, with the Celtics head and shoulders above all three.
2022-23 record, rank in East: 34-48, No. 13
Celtics' 2022-23 record vs. Magic: 1-3
Players added via free agency or trade: Joe Ingles
Notable draft picks: Anthony Black (6th overall), Jett Howard (No. 11)
Players lost to free agency or trade: Bol Bol (waived)
The Magic might be simultaneously the worst team in this group and the toughest matchup for the Celtics. Orlando has a promising young core led by reigning Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero and talented wing Franz Wagner, and that squad has won three straight versus Boston dating to October of last year.
Hopefully the Celtics have learned not to overlook the Magic by now. If they have, there's a very good chance they go a perfect 4-0 in Group Play and advance to the Knockout Round.
Knockout Round Rules
Eight teams will advance to the Knockout Round: the six group winners and two "wild cards" -- one team from each conference with the best group play record among non-group winners.
If the Celtics win their group or land the East wild card spot, they'll play in the Quarterfinals, hosted by the higher seed on Dec. 4 or Dec. 5. If they win the Quarterfinals, they'll head to Las Vegas, which will host the Semifinals on Dec. 7 and the Finals on Dec. 9.