The Celtics return home from a not so successful road trip to begin a 3 game home stand against 3 Western Conference teams. The Celtics are coming off an embarrassing blow out loss to the last place Chicago Bulls which should make them very hungry for a win as they host the Denver Nuggets. Also, the Nuggets won the series 2-0 last season.
The Nuggets are playing in back to back games after blowing out the Pistons in Detroit on Tuesday night. The Nuggets are 1-2 on the second night of back to back games so far. The Celtics are 12-2 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games while the Nuggets are 5-10 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 8-1 vs the West while the Nuggets are 9-4 vs the East.
The Celtics just finished 3 games in 4 nights on the road winning just one of those 3 games. They now begin a 3 game home stand, which will also be 3 games in 4 nights but this time, all three are at home and they won't have the travel between games. The Celtics are still on top in the East, but with Cleveland playing very well, and the Celtics slipping, they have climbed to within 2.5 games of the Celtics.
The Celtics announced that Al Horford will sit out this game for rest. Kyrie Irving, who missed the Celtics game on Monday with a bruised quad, is listed as probable. Marcus Morris remains out with a knee injury and Gordon Hayward is out with the ankle injury. For the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic is questionable with an ankle injury. Denver's coach, Mike Malone, said that it is possible that Jokic may play in this game. He is their best player and it would definitely make this game harder if he can play. Will Barton, who left last night's game with a lower back contusion, is probable for tonight's game. Paul Millsap is out with a wrist injury.
With Al Horford resting this game, it's a question as to who will start. I'm guessing that Brad will start Marcus Smart at the two and shift Jaylen Brown to small forward and Jayson Tatum to power forward with Aron Baynes starting at center. However, the Celtics may just start Theis or Ojeleye at power forward and leave the rest of the starters in place. Denver's starters are the ones listed in their game notes.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Kyrie Irving (quad) probable
Marcus Morris (knee) out
Al Horford (rest) out
Probable Nuggets Starters
Nikola Jokic (ankle) questionable
Will Barton (back) probable
Paul Millsap (wrist) out
Two Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs Will Barton
I'm just guessing that Brown will start at small forward. It's also possible that this will be Jayson Tatum vs Will Barton, depending on who starts in place of Horford. Barton is averaging 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He is also shooting 41.8% from beyond the arc. Murray finished Tuesday's win with 4 points 10 assists and 6 rebounds.
Marcus Smart vs Gary Harris
This could be Jaylen Brown vs Gary Harris if Brad just replaces Horford at the four. Harris is averaging 15.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.83 steals per baje. He is shooting 39.9% from beyond the arc. In Tuesday's win over Detroit, Harris finished with 8 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals.
Kyrie Irving vs Jamal Murray
Kyrie is probable for this game and the Celtics really need him back judging by how poorly they played against the Bulls. Murray is averaging 13.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Murray led the Nuggets over the Pistons with 28 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He shot 58% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to every game. The Celtics still have the #1 defensive rating at 99.6 but they have let their defense slip in several games recently and need to get back to making defense a priority and putting in more work on that side of the court. The Nuggets have a defensive rating of 107.0 (21st).
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 can't let the Nuggets outwork them as they let the Bulls outwork them on Monday.
Rebound - Both teams are good rebounding teams. The Celtics have a slight edge with 45.3 rebounds per game (7th) to 44.9 rebounds per game for the Nuggets (8th). Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics have to work harder to grab rebounds to limit the Nuggets second chance points, especially since the Nuggets average a league best 15.6 second chance points. The Celtics can't allow the Nuggets to outwork them on the boards.
Move the Ball - The Celtics play very well when they move the ball and find the open man. When the ball sticks and players try to do too much, take quick shots, and dribble too much, the Celtics struggle. They have to move the ball and look for the best shot and not force shots and not take quick shots.
Focus - The Celtics had 15 turnovers on Monday against the Bulls and seemed to lose their focus for long periods in the game. They struggled to hit shots, had many unforced turnovers, and they shot just 64% from the line. The Celtics have to focus on playing their game and not let things around them take that focus away.
Injuries - Al Horford is a key part of the Celtics starting lineup and will be resting this game. Kyrie will probably return to the starting lineup but may not be 100%. The Celtics are also missing Marcus Morris, who was just finding his place in the rotation. The Nuggets may be without two key players as well. They will miss Jokic's 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds along with Millsap's 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds. However, the Nuggets won without them on Tuesday night.
Home vs Road - The Celtics are finally home after a tough 3 game road trip. They need to get a boost from the home crowd. On the other hand, the Nuggets have pretty much played like two different teams at home and on the road. They are 10-2 at home and outscore their opponents on their home court 112.3-103.4 but but are 5-10 on the road and are outscored by opponents 111.3-103.1. They average 26.8 assists at home and just 19.8 assists on the road. The Garden needs to be loud and the Celtics need to protect their home court.