The Celtics host the Hornets for the first of 3 regular season games. They have already met twice in the preseason with the Celtics winning both games. The Celtics swept the series last season 4-0. These two teams will meet in Charlotte on December 27th and once more in Boston on February 28.
The Hornets are 1-5 on the road and have lost their last 3 games. The Celtics are 4-1 at home, losing just the first home game the night after Hayward's injury. They have won 10 straight games. Charlotte last played on Tuesday and so they should be well rested while the Celtics last played on Wednesday.
The Celtics have been hit with a string of injuries. Al Horford missed Wednesday's game as he was placed in the league's concussion protocol. He is day to day and likely will miss this game also. Jayson Tatum left Wednesday's game with a sore ankle. Xrays and MRI were both negative and he is a game time decision. Gordon Hayward remains out with the ankle injury.
For the Hornets, Treveon Graham is out with a thigh injury. Julyan Stone is out with a hamstring injury and Nicolas Batum is out with an elbow injury. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returns to the starting lineup after missing the past 3 games for personal reasons. The rest of the starting lineup for the Hornets should be the same as their last game.
The starters for the Celtics will depend on whether Jayson or Al can return to the lineup. I've included the lineup I think they will use if both Al and Jayson remain out. If Jayson can play, expect the starters to be Irving, Brown, Morris, Tatum and Baynes. I'm thinking that the Celtics may be cautious with both players.
Jayson Tatum was shooting before the game but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to go as yet. That remains a game time decision. I'm going to guess that Marcus Smart would start with Irving, Brown, Morris and Baynes if both remain out. But, Brad Stevens is always full of surprises and may start someone else.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Aron Baynes
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Al Horford (concussion) out
Jayson Tatum (ankle) game time decision
Two Way Players
Probable Hornets Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jeremy Lamb
SF: Michael Kidd Gilchrist
PF: Marvin Williams
C: Dwight Howard
Michael Carter Williams
Treveon Graham (thigh) out
Nicolas Batum (elbow) out
Julyan Stone (hamstring) out
Two Way Players
Kyrie Irving vs Kemba Walker
Walker is averaging 21.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists. Kyrie is going to need to go to his newfound defense to slow Walker down because he is capable of taking over a game. Kyrie will also need to make him work on the defensive end so as to wear him out a bit.
Marcus Smart vs Jeremy Lamb
Lamb has been playing well, averaging 17.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. He may have a problem getting to his averages if Smart is guarding him. Hopefully Marcus will also be able to do some scoring to make Lamb have to work on the defensive end.
Aron Baynes vs Dwight Howard
Baynes, coming off his career high 21 points against the Lakers, will be tasked with keeping Howard from having a big game. Howard is averaging 15.2 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. Baynes needs to keep Howard out of the paint and away from the basket.
Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is the key to winning every game, but particularly this one. The Hornets average 104.9 points per game while the Celtics average 103.8 points per game. They average more rebounds, fewer turnovers, and approximately the same 3 point percentage. The biggest difference is that the Celtics are tops in the league with a defensive rating of 95.6 while the Hornets have a defensive rating of 103.6. The Celtics must continue to make defense a priority and play tough individual and team defense if they want to win this one.
Next Man Up - If both Tatum and Horford are out, each player needs to step up his game to the next level. Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris did it against the Lakers and others will need to do it once again in this game in order to get a win, especially if both players are out.
Rebound - The Celtics have been rebounding very well this season. They are 5th in the league with 47.5 rebounds per game. The Hornets have been better as they are 2nd with 48.0 rebounds per game. The Celtics need to put in extra effort to crash the boards and beat the Hornets to the rebounds.
Be Aggressive - One of the strengths of the Celtics has been their aggressiveness on the court. They need to be aggressive in going after rebounds, on defense, in attacking the basket and in going after loose balls. The more aggressive team will also usually get more calls from the officials.
Don't Underestimate - The Celtics can't underestimate the Hornets because of the sub-.500 record. They are tough and they seem to do everything well except defend. It's certain that the Hornets will come in motivated to halt the Celtics win streak and so if the Celtics let up at all, they are likely to get beat.
Depth - If Tatum or Horford or both are out, the Celtics depth will be tested. Each of the Celtics will need to work harder on both ends of the court to try to make up for their injured teammates. They will especially need to work harder on the defensive end with two key defenders out.
Complacency vs Hunger - While the Celtics have won 10 straight the Hornets have lost 3 in a row. The Hornets are hungry to get a win and put a stop to their slide. The Celtics will need to avoid becoming complacent and, especially with players out with injuries, to not play quite as hard.
Home Game - The Celtics are playing in their second home game in a row. The Hornets have struggled on the road this season and so the Celtics need to get a boost from the home crowd and defend their home court.