Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving figures to be honored with a video tribute first, but then receive a chilly reception when he returns to Cleveland as a member of the Boston Celtics for Tuesday’s season-opening game against the Cavaliers. Irving played six seasons with Cleveland but requested a trade following last season and ended up in Boston for a package that included point guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Jae Crowder.
The four-time All-Star guard helped Cleveland reach three NBA Finals – including winning the 2016 title – but reportedly tired of playing with forward LeBron James and now attempts to downplay his return to no avail. “The excitement and the energy is there but I think everything extra has been created by outside influence,” Irving said. “So that’s neither here nor there. I don’t know what that reality is. … It’s going to happen regardless. That’s just the nature of the business. I understand that.” Irving helped the Cavaliers defeat the Celtics in last season’s Eastern Conference finals and Cleveland’s revamped roster includes veteran guards Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon in addition to newcomers Thomas (out due to hip surgery) and Crowder. James has been bothered by a sprained left ankle and his availability may not be determined until close to tipoff.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE CELTICS (2016-17: 53-29): Irving wasn’t the lone big offseason acquisition as Boston lured All-Star small forward Gordon Hayward (formerly of the Utah Jazz) to town with a four-year, $128 million deal. The move to Boston allows Hayward to reunite with Brad Stevens, his former college coach at Butler, and he looks to build off a career-best 2016-17 campaign in which he averaged 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Veteran post player Al Horford, second-year swingman Jaylen Brown and rookie forward Jayson Tatum are the other likely starters, with Tatum drawing the assignment of guarding James in his NBA debut.
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (2016-17: 51-31): James missed four of Cleveland’s five preseason games but he did participate in Monday’s practice, which consisted of shooting drills and a walkthrough. “You know I never hide stuff from you guys, I really don’t know,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue told reporters. “I mean, just depends on how he feels after (Monday), but I really don’t know.” Thomas may not make his Cleveland debut until around the All-Star break, so veterans like Rose, Wade and J.R. Smith will be asked to help James and center Kevin Love on the scoring side.
1. The Cavaliers went 3-1 in the regular season against the Celtics last season before winning the Eastern Conference finals in five games.
2. Boston F Marcus Morris, acquired from the Detroit Pistons in the offseason, will miss the first few weeks of the season due to knee soreness.
3. Cleveland is 4-23 over the past three seasons when James doesn’t play, including losses in the last 11.