Speaking to reporters last week, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka noted that Al Horford’s timeline to return to Boston’s lineup for the opener was going to be “very close.” Now, two days ahead of their October 20th tipoff with the New York Knicks, we know for certain of Big Al’s status. The 15-year veteran is officially on the inactive list for Wednesday’s opener after previous testing positive for COVID-19. Horford remains in the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols.
The silver lining here is that Jaylen Brown, who also previously tested positive for COVID-19, is listed as active on Boston’s opening day roster, (h/t NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg). Brown’s availability shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as Udoka told reporters on October 13th that the 24-year-old “should definitely” be back in time for the opener. Still, it’s pleasant news for the reigning All-Star, who was limited to just one preseason game and hasn’t appeared in a regular-season contest since May of last season after suffering a wrist injury.
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Knicks’ Nerlens Noel ‘Doubtful,’ Mitchell Robinson Trending Up
Boston won’t be the only team likely stripped of a vital big man come Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has dubbed center Nerlens Noel “doubtful” for the Celtics game via Steve Popper of Newsday. The former sixth-overall pick has been dealing with soreness in his left knee which prevented him from practicing with the team over the weekend.
Fellow Knicks center, Mitchell Robinson, played in New York’s preseason finale, likely pointing towards him being in the team’s opening night lineup. In 27 minutes off the bench vs. Washington, Mitchell netted six points and nine boards. The seven-footer suffered a broken foot in late March. Look for him and Taj Gibson to man the majority of the minutes at the five-spot for New York with Noel likely inactive.
Celtics’ Starting Lineup
While an official lineup has yet to be announced you can almost guarantee that four of Boston’s five starters are set in stone. Brown and fellow wing Jayson Tatum are obvious locks, while the newly extended duo of Marcus Smart and Robert Williams are penciled in as the team’s other two starters. Had Horford been healthy, chances are he would have been the fifth starter, likely manning the four-spot. With that said, coach Udoka has preached lineup flexibility since taking over the helm in June.
Guard Josh Richardson has long been expected to factor into the C’s starting lineup depending on matchups. Youngsters Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith have also thrown their hats in the conversation for starter minutes after solid Summer League/preseason showings. Then there’s bargain free-agent signee Dennis Schroder, who is coming off a 13-point, six-assist, four-rebound preseason finale. Yet, despite serving as a full-time starter with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020-21, the expectation is that Schroder will slide into a sixth-man role in Boston in hopes of recapturing his 2018-19 form where he finished second to Montrezl Harrell in NBA Sixth Man of the Year voting.