Sixers Open Season Tonight in Boston

The Philadelphia 76ers will begin their season tonight in Boston.

Celtics guard Marcus Smart defends Isaiah Canaan during the preseason | Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Marcus Smart defends Isaiah Canaan during the preseason | Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s here.

The much maligned, frequently debated, and often overlooked Sixers team will begin year three of the Brett Brown era when they take on the Boston Celtics tonight in Boston. (Related: 10 Pressing Questions About the 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers.)

The Sixers will be extremely short-handed to start the season. They started training camp off knowing that they would have four players unavailable to them: Joel Embiid (foot), Tony Wroten (knee), Kendall Marshall (knee), and Carl Landry (wrist).

On top of that, Robert Covington, who was third on the team in scoring and first in three pointers made last season, will miss 1-2 weeks because of a sprained knee. Nik Stauskas, the 8th pick in the 2014 draft who the Sixers acquired from the Sacramento Kings this summer in a trade, missed virtually the entire training camp and preseason with a stress reaction in his leg. He is a gametime decision for tonight’s game.

That leaves Brett Brown with 10 available players as a best case scenario, which assumes Stauskas can play.

The Details:

What: Sixers vs Celtics

Where: TD Garden, Boston

When: Wednesday, October 28th, 7:30 PM

Watch: Comcast SportsNet

Projected Starting Lineups:

Sixers: Isaiah Canaan, JaKarr Sampson, Hollis Thompson, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor

Celtics: Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, David Lee, Tyler Zeller

(Note: Official starting lineups are released about an hour prior to tipoff).

About The Opponent:

The Celtics are the anti-Sixers, making trades to return to playoff contention and speed up the rebuilding process. They’re afforded this luxury because of the ability to have the first round pick from the Nets in each of the upcoming three drafts: two given to the Celtics outright, and one from a potential pick swap.

The difference in focus was abundantly clear at last year’s trade deadline, when the Sixers acquired what could be a potentially very valuable pick, the Lakers first round pick that is only top-3 protected this season, while the Celtics acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics sprinted to a 20-10 record after the trade, catapulting to second place in the Atlantic Division before being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

Whether or not the Celtics can sustain that success, and whether they can take that difficult next step, will be an interesting storyline in the NBA this season.

They should be able to get off to a strong start. Vegas has the Sixers as a double-digit underdog in this one, and the Celtics perimeter defense led by Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley should cause the Sixers’ guards fits. With two of the Sixers better shooters either out (Covington) or rusty (Stauskas), things could get ugly offensively. The Sixers managed just 65 points on 11-54 shooting when the teams met in preseason, and the Celtics had the second best defense in the league in the preseason, compared to the Sixers second worst offense.

What To Look For

There are three main things to watch out for: how Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor look in a regular season NBA game, whether the Sixers guards can do anything against the Celtics formidable perimeter defense, and how Nik Stauskas looks if he does in fact play.

Despite the fact that we’re now in the regular season, don’t expect Okafor, who averaged just 20.9 minutes per game in the preseason, to all of a sudden start playing 35 minutes per night. Brett Brown said earlier this week that the focus, especially early on, will be for Okafor to play high intensity minutes, even if that comes at the expense of his overall total of minutes played.

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring when the teams met in the preseason with 12 points, but did so on just 6-16 shooting from the field. He also committed 5 turnovers in the game and did not get to the free throw line in his 30 minutes of play.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s new Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.