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Celtics get back to work as they host the New Orleans Pelicans

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The Celtics welcome Rajon Rondo and the New Orleans Pelicans as they return to play after their London trip.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics return to action against the New Orleans Pelicans after playing one game in the last 9 days due to their trip to London. This is the first of two games this season between the Celtics and Pelicans. They will meet once more on March 18th in New Orleans. The series between these two teams last season was tied 1-1 with each team winning on their home court.

The Celtics have won their last 7 games and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. The Pelicans have won their last 2 games and are 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 18-5 at home while the Pelicans are 11-11 on the road. The Celtics are 12-2 against Western Conference teams while the Pelicans are 11-5 vs Eastern Conference teams. The Celtics are 1st in the East while the Pelicans are 6th in the West. The Pelicans have won 1 just one of their last 6 games against the Celtics, their home game last season.

There are 4 former Celtics on the Pelicans. Rajon Rondo has been playing well for the Pelicans. It’s amazing that the only player left on the Celtics who played with Rondo is Marcus Smart. Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson are both out for this game. Tony, along with Rondo, won a ring with the Celtics while Jameer Nelson just passed through. E’Twaun Moore was drafted 55th by the Celtics in 2011 and is starting for the Pelicans.

Jayson Tatum injured his knee in the game vs the Sixers and missed practice on Saturday. He was able to practice on Monday and is probable for this game. Al Horford also missed Saturday’s practice to rest his knee and is also expected to play in this one. Shane Larkin missed Saturday’s practice with an illness and is day to day. Abdel Nader is questionable with an illness.

The Pelicans are short handed with 4 players out. Alexis Ajinca (knee), Solomon Hill J(hamstring), Frank Jackson (foot) and Tony Allen (fibula) are all listed as out for this game. Jameer Nelson was originally listed as out for personal reasons but is now expected to play.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Daniel Theis
Shane Larkin
Abdel Nader
Terry Rozier
Marcus Smart
Guerschon Yabusele
Marcus Morris
Semi Ojeleye

Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Abdel Nader (illness) questionable
Shane Larkin (illness) day to day
Jayson Tatum (knee) probable
Al Horford (knee) probable

Two Way Players
Jabari Bird
Kadeem Allen

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Pelicans Starters

Pelicans Reserves
Omer Asik
Ian Clark
Dante Cunningham
Cheick Diallo
DeAndre Liggins
Darius Miller

Jameer Nelson (personal) probable
Tony Allen (fibula) out
Solomon Hill (hamstring) out
Frank Jackson (foot) out
Alexis Ajinca (knee) out

2 Way Players
Charles Cooke

Head Coach Alvin Gentry

Key Matchups

Al Horford vs Anthony Davis
Davis is dominant and is averaging 26.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game. He is coming off a game where he had 48 points and 17 rebounds. He has scored at least 30 points in 6 of his last 8 games. Al will need to play tough defense to slow him down.

Aron Baynes vs DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins is a physical center and so Brad Stevens will likely go with Baynes to start against him. Cousins has been playing very well for the Pelicans with 25.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. Aron Baynes is 2nd in the league with a defensive rating of 94.7 and he will need to play tough defense on a very good offensive player in this one. Cousins major flaw is that he has the highest turnover percentage on drives at 13.3% and Baynes needs to exploit that.

Honorable Mention
Jaylen Brown vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday is 3rd in scoring for the Pelicans with 18.1 points per game to go with 5.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Brown should be able to win this matchup. He is coming off a game where the Sixers bench was taunting him and he blew a kiss toward their bench as he hit a 3 on his way to a 21 point game. Hopefully that chip remains firmly in place on his shoulder.

Player to Watch
Rajon Rondo
When the Celtics last saw Rajon Rondo on the court, he was with the Chicago Bulls in last year’s playoffs. He is averaging 7.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 7.8 assists with the Pelicans but when he is motivated, he can take over a game as the Celtics saw in last year’s playoffs before he was injured. The Celtics need to defend him well to avoid an explosion on both ends of the court.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Pelicans average 111.0 points per game (4th) while the Celtics average 103.0 points per game (22). The Celtics must play tough defense to slow down the Pelicans’ scoring if they want to win this game. The Celtics are first in the league with a defensive rating of 99.6. They are the only team with a defensive rating under 100, The Pelicans are 23rd with a defensive rating of 107.5. The Celtics defense will be very important in this game. The Celtics have to especially defend the paint as the Pelicans are 2nd in the league with 50.4 points in the paint.

Rebound - The Celtics have to crash the boards as a team. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics have to show that effort on the boards. When they put that extra effort out to dominate the boards, it often translates to all other areas of the game as well. The Pelicans are a good rebounding team with both Davis and Cousins crashing the boards and so the Celtics will need to work hard to beat them to rebounds.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have got to be aggressive in going to the basket, playing defense, diving for loose balls and just playing harder. They let the Sixers play harder than them in the first half on Thursday, but they came out more aggressive in the second half and were able to get the win because of it. Their effort and aggressiveness can make them very tough to beat.

Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to move the ball to find the open man as when the ball slows down and players try to do too much, they struggle. But as they move the ball, they have to be careful with their passes and avoid turning it over as the Pelicans are 10th in fast break points and will make the Celtics pay if they get careless.

Depth - The Pelicans are short handed with 5 players out with injuries. The Celtics will be close to full strength if Jayson Tatum and Al Horford can play as expected. The Pelicans have a very strong starting lineup, but do they have the depth to stay close when they go to the bench?

Rust vs Rest - The Celtics should be well rested in that they have had just one game in the last 9 days. They have gotten some much needed practice time over those 9 days. In their one win, they came from 22 down to beat the Sixers on Thursday of last week. The Pelicans beat the Knicks on Sunday. Will the Celtics be rusty from not playing or will they be energized from getting rest and practice time?