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Rockets visit Celtics in a battle of 2 shorthanded contenders

The Rockets, without Clint Capela and Chris Paul pay their only visit to the Celtics who are without Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The third place Celtics host the 2nd place Houston Rockets for the first of two games this season. They will meet for the second game on March 3 in Houston. The series was tied last season with each team winning on their home court.

The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are looking for their second straight win after a victory in Charlotte on Wednesday night. The Celtics are 14-5 at home and 10-2 vs Western Conference teams. The Rockets are 7-3 in their last game and have lost their last 3 games. The Rockets are 12-2 on the road and 11-2 against Eastern Conference teams.

The Rockets had their 8 game road winning streak snapped by the Thunder on Christmas Day. The Rockets are playing in the first of back to back games while the Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. The Celtics are 3-3 in the second of back to back games and 0-1 when the games are road/home.

Both teams are dealing with injury problems. Chris Paul has missed the last two games for the Rockets with an adductor injury. He was still sore after going through Sunday's practice and is listed as out for this game. Clint Capela broke an orbital bone in Monday's game vs OKC and is out for this game. Luke Mbah a Moute (shoulder) and Troy Williams (knee) are also out for this game.

Jaylen Brown bumped knees with Markieff Morris in Monday's game vs the Wizards and missed Wednesday's game. He may have possible ligament damage and will miss this game as well. Semi Ojeleye was upgraded to semi-questionable for Wednesday's game but he didn't play and is listed as out for this game also. Marcus Morris also missed Wednesday's game and is listed as available for this game. He looked very rusty in his minutes against the Wizards and so even if he plays it's not certain how much he can give in this game.

I'm taking a guess that Nene will start for the Rockets in place of Capela. Also, I expect Marcus Smart to once again start at shooting guard. Houston's game notes have James Harden starting at point guard and Eric Gordon starting at the shooting guard spot with Chris Paul still unable to play.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Abdel Nader
Daniel Theis
Guerschon Yabusele
Terry Rozier
Shane Larkin
Jabari Bird

Injuries
Marcus Morris (knee) available
Semi Ojeleye (back) out
Jaylen Brown (knee) out
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Rockets Reserves
Tarik Black
Bobby Brown
Zhou Qi
PJ Tucker
Troy Williams

Injuries
Clint Capela (eye) out
Luc MBah a Moute (shoulder) out
Chris Paul (adductor) out
Troy Williams (knee ) out
Chinanu Onuaku (G-League) out

Two Way Players
Demetrius Jackson
Briante Weber

Head Coach
Mike D'Antoni

Key Matchups

Kyrie Irving vs James Harden
James Harden is averaging 32.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.2 and 1.8 steals per game this season. It will be up to Kyrie to try to slow Harden down. Harden averaged 33.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 9.8 assists in the 2 games between these two teams last season. Harden is not known for playing great defense and so the Celtics may be able to take advantage of that if Kyrie can get hot.

Marcus Smart vs Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon is averaging 19.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.0 for the Rockets this season. Gorden scored 19 in the only game he played in vs the Celtics last year. Smart will need to slow Gordon down along with adding some offense of his own to make Gordon work on the defensive end.

Honorable Mention
Jayson Tatum vs Trevor Ariza
Ariza is averaging 12.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game this season. He has burned the Celtics in the past and so the Tatum needs to be solid on defense to keep him from having a big game.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to every game. Defense wins games. The Rockets are 1st in the league in scoring at 115.1 ppg. The Celtics are 20th and averaging 103.5 ppg. The Celtics started off with the best defense in the league by far, but lately have let their defense slip. The Celtics defensive rating is now 101.0 (2nd) while the Rockets are 10th with a defensive rating of 104.1. The Celtics absolutely need to get back to playing hard nose gritty defense. The Celtics need to play tough team defense and limit the Rockets' scoring if they expect to get a win in this game.

Rebound - In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. They can't allow the Rockets to own the boards, which will limit the Celtics fast breaks as well as their second chance points. Houston averages 44.1 rebounds while the Celtics average 43.9 rebounds per game. When the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game.

Energy and Aggressiveness - The Celtics need to play physical ball and be aggressive on both ends of the court. They have to come out and play hard from start to finish with no let up. It seems when the Celtics get a lead, they stop being aggressive, as we saw in the third quarter against the Hornets. They have to be aggressive and they have to play like the team that wants it more for 48 minutes.

Depth and Next Man Up
Both teams are missing key players due to injuries. In spite of playing in back to back games and in a brutal stretch of games that has allowed no rest for players, the remaining Celtics must dig down deep to fill in for their injured teammates.

X-Factors
Home Game and Fatigue - The Celtics are playing at home once again and need to get a boost from the always supportive crowd at the Garden. They are also playing on the second night of back to back games and during a stretch in which they have gotten very little rest and no practice time. In the meantime, the Houston Rockets are well rested as they haven't played since Monday. Fatigue could be a factor for the Celtics, but hopefully the home crowd can give them a boost.

Injuries - Both teams are dealing with injuries. The Celtics will be missing Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye. Marcus Morris will be available on a limited basis. They have to have the "Next Man Up" mentality and each player has to step up their game to make up for their injured teammates. The Rockets also will be missing several key players. Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Luc MBah a Moute, and Troy Williams are all out. Which team will have players step up to fill in for their injured teammates?