Ciao, basket! Celtics start game action overseas

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The Boston Celtics open their exhibition season Tuesday against 26-time Italian League champion Olimpia Milano at Mediolanum Forum, and a second overseas exhibition follows two days later against 32-time Spanish League champion Real Madrid.

Here's a handful of things we'll be watching as Boston launches into preseason play this week:


Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has implored all observers not to overreact to lineups and combinations utilized early in the preseason. Fat chance. Reporters have already studied and scrutinized lineups in practices and scrimmages, and all Celtics fans will be intrigued by an early glimpse at how Stevens manages his rotation in a non-intrasquad competition. Sure, it's unlikely the combinations we see this week will be the same ones on opening night -- chances are lineups will vary from Tuesday to Thursday -- but this should help Stevens start to put the lineup puzzle together.


We've heard an awful lot from players and coaches about how this trip is about bonding and coming together. We'll find out exactly how that process is going. Are guys running to pick each other up off the court? Are veterans cheering on the rookies? The Celtics, despite all the roster changes last season, were a tight-knit group during their second-half surge. With 10 players back from last year's squad, there should be some immediate chemistry and cohesion, especially after so much time together to start this trip.


Evan Turner suffered a right knee sprain in practice this week and is expected to be reevaluated before Tuesdays' game. Perry Jones was battling right knee soreness during practice last week, though he returned to practice overseas. The swingman spot could be a bit thin if those two are limited, and that could force Stevens to experiment with unique pairings, such as one unit we've seen in which Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko play the swing roles alongside Isaiah Thomas and two bigs. For Jones, in competition to earn a final roster spot, Turner's absence would give him more of a chance to show his versatility.


No one is expecting the Celtics to come out of the gates playing lockdown defense, but that side of the ball has clearly been a focus for Stevens. His players have embraced the notion that this year's squad will be defined by its defensive tenacity. In practice last week, we saw Crowder and newcomer Amir Johnson fired up after coming up with repeated stops in 3-on-2 drills, while Smart was flying all over the perimeter harassing the ball in clips of half-court work from overseas practices. Can the Celtics set an early tone on the defensive side? Which groups have best success together?


Second-year guard James Young had a lackluster summer league hindered, in part, by injury. Young spent the rest of the summer putting in diligent work with Boston's coaching staff, and he has routinely received praise from team brass who believe things will eventually click for the No. 17 pick in the 2014 draft. Two areas to watch with Young: (1) Stevens has raved about his defensive improvements, and we did see a more scrappy, floor-diving Young at summer league and (2) Young seemed to press when his shots didn't fall at summer league. Can he fight through the frustration if shots don't drop early overseas?


It's unclear just how much of opportunity Boston's three rookies are going to get during the regular season. The Celtics are overstocked at most spots, and it's going to be tough for the first-year guys to crack the rotation if veterans are healthy. But the rookies are likely to see plenty of minutes over the course of the seven-game preseason slate, and that will be a chance for those young players to show where they stand in the early stages of their NBA development.


The best part of it all is basketball is back. It's been 164 days since the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs in April. Yes, it's a foreign team on the other side and meaningless exhibition play, but this is the first game in what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he hoped was at least a 100-game campaign.