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Celtics look to win one for Al as Horford returns to Atlanta for the first time

The Celtics look look to end Atlanta's 7 game win streak and get a win for Al Horford over his former team as they play Atlanta for the first time this season.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics (24-15) at Atlanta Hawks (22-16)
Friday, January 13, 2017
8:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #40, Road Game #22
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, 92.9 FM The Game
Philips Arena
Referees: Ken Mauer, Gediminas Pedraitis, Michael Smith

After a win at home vs the Wizards, the Celtics head to Atlanta to face the Hawks for the first time since Al Horford left there for the Celtics. The Hawks are on a 7 game win streak while the Celtics are looking for their second straight win but they have won 5 of their last 6 games. The Haws are 10-7 at home while the Celtics are 12-9 on the road.

Last season the Hawks won the series 3-1 with the Celtics winning the first game in Boston and then losing the final 3 meetings of the regular season. The Celtics also faced the Haws in the first round of the playoffs, which the Hawks won 4-2. The Hawks ae 8-2 in their last 10 games while the Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10.

The Hawks are the hottest team in the league right now with their 7 game win streak. After losing to the Wolves on 12/26, they have beaten the Knicks, Pistons, Spurs, Magic, Pelicans, Mavs and Nets. Of that group, only the Spurs are over .500 and the Hawks beat them by just 2 points at home. The Hawks are just 1.5 games behind the Celtics for the 3rd spot in the East so this is a big game for both teams.

Both of these teams changed considerably over the off season. The biggest change is that Al Horford left the Hawks in the off season for the Celtics, which makes this a big game for him because players always want to beat their former team when they move on. Jeff Teague, who always seemed to have big games against the Celtics, is out and Dennis Schroder has taken over as the starting point guard. Dwight Howard is now starting for the Hawks at center and he can also be a big problem.

Avery Bradley (Achilles), Tyler Zeller (illness), and James Young (ankle) did not travel with the Celtics to Atlanta and will miss this game. Jaylen Brown (ankle) and Amir Johnson (ankle) both traveled with the team and will be a game time decision as to whether they will play. According to Adam Himmelsbach of the Globe, both are going to try to play. For the Hawks, DeAndre Bembry (personal) is a game time decision while Tiagon Splitter (hamstring) and Mo Williams (knee) are both out.
Probable Starting Matchups
Point Guard

Isaiah Thomas vs Dennis Schroder

Shooting Guard
Marcus Smart vs Kent Bazemore

Small Forward
Jae Crowder vs Thabo Sefolosha

Power Forward [/b]
Jordan Mickey vs Paul Millsap

Al Horford vs Dwight Howard

Celtics Reserves
Gerald Green
Terry Rozier
Jonas Jerebko
Kelly Olynyk
Demetrius Jackson

Avery Bradley (Achilles) out
James Young (ankle)out
Tyler Zeller (illness) out
Jaylen Brown (ankle) game time decision
Amir Johnson (ankle) game time decision

Head Coach

Brad Stevens

Hawks Reserves
Malcolm Delaney
Mike Dunleavy, Jr.
Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Kris Humphries
Mike Muscala
Taurean Prince
Mike Scott

Tiago Splitter (hamstring) out
DeAndre Bembry (personal) game time decision
Mo Williams (knee) out

Head Coach
Mike Budenholzer

Key Matchups
Jordan Mickey vs Paul Millsap
Millsap is averaging 17.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Amir Johnson is a game time decision with the ankle injury that kept him out of Wednesday's game. It goes without saying that the Celtics will be better if Amir can play but if not, hopefully Mickey will be ready for a big game. If Amir can play, he will more than likely match up with Howard while Horford matches up against his former teammate.

Isaiah Thomas vs Dennis Schroder
Schroder is averaging 17.8points, 3.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. Even off the bench, Schroder was a problem for the Celtics in the playoffs. He is a very good defender and so Isaiah will need to work harder to get his points in this game.

Honorable Mention
Al Horford vs Dwight Howard
Howard is averaging 14.0 points, 13.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.3 blocks. He will make getting to the basket difficult for the Celtics. As I mentioned in the previous section, it would be much better for the Celtics if Amir can play and go up against Howard but if not, Horford has to somehow keep Howard off the boards and out of the paint. Hopefully he will be hitting his 3's and able to pull Howard out to the perimeter.

Keys to the Game
Play as a Team - The Celtics play best when they play as a team on both ends of the court. They have to move the ball and find the open man who then has to hit his shots. They need to work as a team on defense and get stops and turn them into fast breaks. They need to remember their theme from last year's playoffs that they are One Superstar and play like it.

Take Care of the Ball - The Hawks are 3rd in the league in steals with 8.7 per game. The Hawks are 8th in the league with 16.8 points off turnovers. The Hawks are 4th in the league in forcing turnovers with 15.6 per game. The Celtics have to make good passes and not allow the Hawks to get extra points off steals and turnovers. If the Celtics get careless, the Hawks will make them pay.

Rebound - The Celtics have to make an extra effort to crash the glass and not give the Hawks extra possessions. Howard and Milsap are tough on the boards and the Celtics need to box out and aggressively go after the rebounds as a team to avoid giving them second chance and fast break points. The Hawks are averaging 14.2 second chance points (6th) and 11.3 fast break points per game. This may be the biggest difference in these two teams. The Celtics are averaging 41.1 rebounds per game while the Hawks are averaging 44.4 rebounds per game.

- Defense wins games. The Hawks have players who can put points up in a hurry and the Celtics have to concentrate on defense to keep them from having big games. Both of these teams pride themselves on playing tough defense. The Hawks are 18-4 when they score at least 100 points. The Celtics have to focus on playing tough lock down defense if they want to get a win.

Be Aggressive
- The Celtics must be the team that plays harder and that wants this win more. They have to be aggressive in diving for loose balls, in going to the basket, in getting stops on the defensive end, and in going after rebounds. They have to play harder and be more aggressive from start to finish. Their best hope to beat the Hawks is to play harder from start to finish.

- The Celtics have to come out focused on the game and on playing their best against a tough Atlanta team. They have to block out all of the distractions that playing on the road can bring and put their all into getting a win in this game.
Extra Motivation - Both teams have some additional motivation for this game. The Celtics want to beat the Hawks for Al Horford to show he made the right decision this summer. The Hawks want to win it for the opposite reason, to show Al that he made the wrong decision to leave. Also, there is some bad blood between Dennis Schroder and Isaiah Thomas stemming from a couple of altercations in the playoffs. And finally, the Hawks are just 1.5 games behind the Celtics in the standings and so this is a fight for the 3rd spot in the East. . Which team will use the motivation to play harder and get the win?

Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. The Celtics play best when the officials let them play and don't call a lot of ticky tack fouls for incidental contact. Referees with an agenda are always a possibility as well, especially playing on the road. But the Celtics can't let the officials take them out of their game with bad or ticky tack calls. They have to play their game regardless of the way the game is called.

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