Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 9:30 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
Boston 3½ -108 over New York
7:00 PM EST. The Celtics are going to be very hard to stop this season, so tough that maybe only the Bucks and Suns will be able to comfortably keep up with them offensively until the playoffs, where we all know NBA teams finally start playing defense. Of course that's still speculation and forecasting at this point. What makes Boston really dangerous is that they seem to know who they are now. Their offseason told us a lot about who they want to be, and needless to say - we're compelled.
The Celtics' first opponent is formidable in their own right, and they're getting some love in the marketplace because it's at home at the historical venue of Madison Square Garden and they ascended into the playoff-semifinals last season. That still doesn't mean they're only 3-points worse than the Boston Celtics.
For seasons on end, Boston has tried to form into a team they're not. Ime Udoka's short reign as head coach in the 2021-2022 season brought a classic mentality of defensive-minded basketball. He tried to reignite a gritty culture built on a reputation from year's past, but the Celtics couldn't maintain the aura and their stars weren't ready to step up in the game's biggest moments. Even last season, their defensive prowess would go up and down, waning for long stretches (literally months on end) as they relied heavily on their offense to produce at a consistently high-level. Aside from their obsession with shooting too many three-pointers and playing too much iso-ball, it mostly worked. That is, until another humbling failure in the postseason.
In game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat held the Celtics to just 84 points. Boston's stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, found themselves stuck in the mud in a big spot once again. They shot a combined 13-36 (36%) from the field, a terrible mark in one of the biggest games of their career, and Boston was booted out swiftly by Jimmy Butler and a tough-minded Heat team. After that debacle, it's clear the Celtics' front office has seen enough. Time to embrace a new era, a new approach, a new mentality.
Entering this season, it officially matters less if Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum have off nights. That's a good thing for the favorite Wednesday Night. Boston will be backed up by ace-shooter Kristaps Porzingis (who will be a defensive-liability in the front court, no doubt) and veteran point guard Jrue Holiday to keep them afloat. Holiday brings a two-way presence at PG that's hard to beat. Coming off the bench will be a slew of fresh young talent, including another solid shooter in Oshae Brissett and Celtics' favorite Payton Prichard. Al Horford, one of the best swiss-army-knives in the NBA for the better part of two decades, enters his 3rd season as one of Boston's most important on-court leaders, and they still have Derrick White, one of the most underrated two-way players in the association. The Celtics present as a roster that might have a few setbacks defensively without Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III, but a team with dudes who know exactly what their roles are and how explosive they can be as a unified front.
The Knicks showed some real improvement last season, especially in how they ended it. They won 17 of their last 25 games and played well in the postseason, dominating Cleveland in the first round and then battling with Miami in what ended up being a 6-game series in the conference semifinals. Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson both served as sparkplugs they needed, but ultimately their offense depended too much on Brunson. Against a blue-collar Miami defense, the Knicks only averaged 100 ppg in the semifinals. There's little evidence that the core of their roster can overcome or outplay a truly elite, in-sync offense, and that's going to be a problem against Boston.
There's a lot of hype on this year's Boston Celtics for good reason. They have so much offensive talent, especially in their starting-5, that teams will have a tough time keeping pace with them in the first and third quarters. Their bench is where they could have a hiccup - it'll take time for the group to develop together - but in an opening showcase game, this is an opportunity for Boston to make an early statement. They're well-equipped to do just that.
Boston -3½ -108 (Risking 2.16 units - To Win: 2.00)