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Celtics look to get back on track as they take on the Nuggets in Denver

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Celtics continue their 3 game road trip with a visit to the Denver Nuggets.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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Boston Celtics (32-24) at Denver Nuggets (22-33)
Sunday, February 21, 2016
5:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #57 Road Game #30
TV: CSNNE, Altitude, NBA-LP 752(DTV), 752(Xfinity)
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, KRWZ 960 AM
Pepsi Center

Referees: Mike Callahan, Steve Anderson, Brent Barnaky

The Celtics continue their three-game road trip with a stop in the Mile High City to take on the Denver Nuggets. The Celtics are looking to get back on track after losing their first game following the All-Star break. They looked sluggish on both ends of the court and need to get back to team play, especially on the defensive end.

The Celtics are playing in the first of back-to-back games and will head to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves after this game. The Celtics are 6-7 in the first game of back-to-back games. They are 5-4 when the first game is on the road. The Celtics are 15-14 on the road while the Nuggets are 11-15 at home, in spite of their high altitude advantage.

The Nuggets have won 9 of their last 11 games against the Celtics in Denver but have lost 16 of their last 18 in Boston, including a 111-103 loss in Boston in January. The Celtics won 10 of their last 12 games going into the All-Star break. Despite their excellent record during that period, their defense has been slipping, allowing over 100 points in each of their last 5 games.

The Celtics remain third in the East, but their lead over 4th place Miami has shrunk to just half a game. They are 1.5 games ahead of Atlanta, who is in 5th. The Celtics are 4.5 games behind Toronto for the 2nd spot. Denver is 11th in the West and 5.5 games out of playoff position, so the Nuggets may still harbor playoff aspirations.

Marcus Smart injured his thumb in the game vs the Jazz but is expected to still play in this game. Avery Bradley injured his knee against the Jazz but will play this evening as well. Kelly Olynyk is out with a shoulder sprain. Jordan Mickey played under 3 minutes against the Jazz and still managed 2 points and 2 blocks. Celtics fans are hoping to see a bit more of him in this game.

For the Nuggets, Darrell Arthur (quad) is listed as probable. Former Celtic Jameer Nelson (wrist) is listed as doubtful while Wilson Chandler (hip) is out. The Celtics beat the Nuggets 111-103 in Boston in January and will be looking for their second straight sweep of Denver.

Probable Starting Matchups
Point Guard

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Isaiah Thomas vs Emmanuel Mudiay

Shooting Guard
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Avery Bradley vs Gary Harris

Small Forward

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Jae Crowder vs Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward
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Amir Johnson vs Kenneth Faried

Center
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Jared Sullinger vs Nikola Jokic




Celtics Reserves
Evan Turner
RJ Hunter
Jonas Jerebko
Terry Rozier
James Young
Jordan Mickey
Tyler Zeller
Marcus Smart

Head Coach

Brad Stevens

Injuries

Kelly Olynyk (shoulder) out
Avery Bradley (knee) game-time decision
Marcus Smart (thumb) probable


Nuggets Reserves
Will Barton
DJ Augustin
Joffrey Lauvergne
Mike Miller
Jusuf Nurkic

Head Coach
Michael Malone

Injuries
Darrell Arthur (quad) probable
Jameer Nelson (wrist) doubtful
Wilson Chandler (hip) out

Key Matchups
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Jae Crowder vs Danilo Gallinari
This may be a tough matchup for both teams. Gallinari has a height advantage and needs to be covered all over the court because he has good range on his shot. On the other hand, Jae has a strength advantage and should be able to out-muscle him in the paint. Gallinari is averaging 19.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists.

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Amir Johnson vs Kenneth Faried
Faried has a motor that will not quit. He reminds me of Jae Crowder in some ways (and not just the hair). Faried is averaging 12.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Amir will need to keep him out of the paint and off the boards, and he will need to show more energy than he did against the Jazz.

Honorable Mention
Evan Turner vs Will Barton
This is a battle of the key reserves. Barton, nicknamed "Will the Thrill," is averaging 15.5 points per game, which is 3rd in the league for bench scoring. He is also key for the Nuggets in the 4th quarter, averaging 6.4 points in the final quarter, which is 9th best in the league. Turner is the Celtics 4th quarter spark plug and it may come down to which player performs the best. In the first meeting between these two teams, back on January 27, Barton posted 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.


Keys to the Game

Defense - Defense is the key to winning every game. The Celtics have been slipping on defense and are now ranked 14th in the league, allowing 101.7 points per game. They have allowed 115.8 points per game over their last 5 games. They allowed Denver to shoot over 54% for the game during the last meeting between the teams. The Celtics MUST get back to making defense their priority. If they slack off on defense against the Nuggets, Denver will certainly make them pay.

Run! - The Celtics are a much better team when they push the ball and run and get easy shots before the defense can set up. When they slow it down, they get stagnant on both ends of the court and struggle to score and get stops. They need to run on every offensive possession and then run back on defense.

Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to come out strong and play hard for the entire game. They have to avoid the lapses in the middle where they turn the ball over and miss their shots. They have to focus and keep playing hard from the opening tip until the final buzzer, especially if they get a lead. They tend to let up at times when they get a lead and let the other team come back. The need to work hard to keep that from happening.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to fight for loose balls, defend aggressively, be aggressive in driving to the basket, and just play harder than the Nuggets for the entire game. They have to be the team that wants it more. They seemed sluggish against the Jazz, and because of that, Utah played harder and caused the Celtics to lose what had been a winnable game.

Rebound
- The Celtics can't score if they don't have the ball. Much of rebounding is effort, and when the Celtics put extra effort into grabbing rebounds, that effort often translates to the rest of their game. They have to crash the boards to give themselves second-chance points and to prevent the Nuggets from getting the same.

Move the Ball
- The Celtics have to move the ball to find the open man and the best shots. When they lapse into hero ball, they struggle to score. They are at their best when they are assisting on the majority of baskets and moving the ball. The Celtics had only 18 assists against the Jazz, and when they dip under 20 in the assist column, they struggle.

X-Factors
Officiating Factor - Officiating will be an X-Factor for every game. Every crew has their own way of calling the games, and they have their own agendas. Will they call it fairly or in favor of one team or the other? Will they let them play or call every little contact? Against the Jazz it seemed as though they were calling a foul on every possession, and there was little flow to the game. The way the game is called always has an effect on the players.

Bounce Back Factor
- The Celtics are coming off of a disappointing loss to the Jazz in which they did not play well, and they didn't play the Celtics team ball that we have come to expect from them this season. Can they bounce back and give a better effort in this game?

Official Report
Mike Callahan

A veteran of 25 NBA seasons, Mike Callahan has officiated 1,483 regular season, 156 Playoff and 16 NBA Finals games. He was a member of the crews that officiated the 2007 NBA All-Star Game, 1994 Mexico Challenge and the 1996 Schick Rookie Game. Prior to joining the NBA, Callahan spent three years officiating in the CBA, including the 1989 and 1990 CBA Finals. A member of the Cardinal O’Hara High School basketball team for four years, Callahan also coached the freshman basketball team after graduating.

Callahan is one of 4 refs to come out of Cardinal O'Hara High School in Pennsylvania. The other 3 are Joey Crawford, Ed Malloy and Tim Donaghy. Callahan was one of the referees mentioned in an incident in Tim Donaghy's book. According to the book, he and other refs would regularly wager with their fellow refs over things like who would call the first foul, who could give out the first tech, and so on.

Callahan called Game 1 of the Cleveland series in last season's playoffs. The refs were terrible in that game. Even the national TV announcers continually pointed out bad calls and how LeBron got away with so much. They also mentioned that if LeBron had been called for even half of his infractions, the game's outcome would have changed. Cleveland shot 33 free throws to 22 for the Celtics. He called the second game this season against the Raptors and it was officiated alright, as was the win over the Nets.

As with most refs, Callahan can be good or he can be very, very bad. He usually lets the teams play and isn't a tyrant with the whistle but still makes some head-scratching calls from time to time. The Celtics are 2-2 this season and 5-5 over the last 10 games with Callahan. The Nuggets are 1-0 this season and 5-5 over their last 10 games with Callahan. His home W/L record this season is 18-23.

Brent Barnaky

Brent Barnaky enters his sixth NBA season having officiated 271 NBA games. Barnaky came to the NBA with 10 years of collegiate officiating experience in the Southeastern Conference, Big East, Conference USA and other college conferences as well. He completed three years of postseason officiating in the NIT (2008-2010). He officiated the 2008, 2009 and 2010 NBA D-League Playoffs, and the 2009 and 2010 NBA D-League Finals.

As with many of the refs, Barnaky can be good or very bad. The Celtics have had a couple of memorable games with Barnaky in the past. In a loss to the Pistons three seasons ago that Tommy Heinsohn called the worst officiated game all season, Rondo was ejected, and the Pistons shot 46 free throws to 15 for the Celtics. In a game vs the Bucks last season, he allowed the Bucks to mug the Celtics all game and called ticky-tack fouls on the Celtics. Then the Celtics tried to commit an intentional foul to stop the clock, and the refs wouldn't call it. He called the win at home vs the Wizards this season, and the game was called evenly. He also called the game vs Charlotte this season, and the officiating was very good. They let both teams play and called it evenly. Both teams are 2-2 this season and 4-6 in their last 10 games with Barnaky. His home W/L record is 21-23.

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson enters his third NBA season having officiated 99 regular season games. He joined the full-time staff in 2013-14 after six seasons as a referee in the NBA D-League and already having officiated 18 regular season NBA games as a non-staff official. Anderson officiated the FIBA U19 World Championships in the Czech Republic in 2013. This season in a game vs the Nets, the officiating was one-sided toward the Nets, and Brooklyn took 30 free throws to 14 for the Celtics. He also called a game vs the Pacers last season in which there were quite a few head-scratching calls that prompted a "That's terrible!" from Tommy several times.

Anderson called the win over Miami this season and for the most part let both teams play. However, the refs made a few bad calls against the Celtics down the stretch. With just over two minutes left, they called a foul on Amir Johnson for a foul when Amir and Bosh were both scrambling for a loose ball. Amir was on the floor with the ball, and Bosh landed on top of him. It gave Miami possession in a close game. In a game vs the Knicks this season, the refs were ok for the first three quarters but were terrible down the stretch, letting the Celtics get mugged several times with no calls and calling fouls on the Celtics for minimal contact. Those refs let free throws decide the game. The Celtics are 2-1 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Anderson, while the Nuggets are 0-2 this season and 2-8 in their last 10 games with Anderson. His home W/L record is 22-12.