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Celtics look to continue win streak as they host the Charlotte Hornets

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The Celtics, with a 3 game win streak, host the Charlotte Hornets, who have a 5 game win streak, in their 3rd and final meeting of the season.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics host the Hornets for their third and final regular season game. They have already met twice in the preseason with the Celtics winning both games. The Celtics won 90-87 in Boston on 11/10 and they won 102-91 in Charlotte on 12/27. The Celtics swept the series last season 4-0.

The Hornets are the only team in the East who has a current win streak longer than the Celtics. The Celtics have won 3 straight while the Hornets have won their last 5 (ORL, BKN, WAS, DET, and CHI. The Celtics are 22-11 at home while the Hornets are 10-18 on the road. Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Hornets are playing in the second of back to back games. They are 4-7 playing on the second night in a row.

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, only Gordon Hayward was on the injury list for either team. After being originally listed as probable with a sore hamstring, Daniel Theis has been downgraded to out for this game. Morris and Monroe should see an increase playing time in his absence. Although Theis has been out-playing both of them in recent games.

The game against the Bulls last night must have been physical because afterwards, Dwight Howard was listed as probable for this game in spite of a rib injury. Cody Zeller (knee) and Michael Kidd Gilchrist (hamstring) both left the game against the Bulls and didn’t return. Both are listed as out for this game.

With both the Celtics and Raptors winning on Monday, the Celtics remain .5 games behind the Raptors for the top seed in the East. The Raptors are playing the Magic and so the Celtics need a win to keep pace. The Hornets are just 3.5 games out of the 8th spot. The Hornets won’t be tanking and will be trying their best to make the playoffs. The Celtics have to be ready to play hard and not give the Hornets any confidence that they can beat them.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jayson Tatum
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Shane Larkin
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Marcus Morris
Marcus Smart
Terry Rozier
Greg Monroe

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Guerschon Yabusele (G-League) day to day
Daniel Theis (hamstring) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Hornets Starters

PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Nicolas Batum
SF: Michael Kidd Gilchrist
PF: Marvin Williams
C: Dwight Howard

Probable Reserves
Dwayne Bacon
Michael Carter Williams
Treveon Graham
Frank Kaminsky
Jeremy Lamb
Malik Monk
Johnny O’Bryant

Injuries
Cody Zeller (knee) out
Michael Kidd Gilchrist (hamstring) out
Dwight Howard (ribs) probable

Two Way Players
Mangok Mathiang
Marcus Paige

Head Coach
Steve Clifford

Key Matchups

Kyrie Irving vs Kemba Walker
This is a battle between two All Star point guards. Walker is averaging 22.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists. Kyrie is going to need to play defense to slow Walker down because he is capable of taking over a game. Walker had 20 points and 11 rebounds in the first game and 24 points and 5 assists in the second game. Kyrie will also need to make him work on the defensive end so as to wear him out a bit.

Aron Baynes vs Dwight Howard
This is a matchup of two physical old school centers. Neither is a 3 point shooter and both are physical in playing around the basket. Howard is averaging 15.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. So far this season, when defended by Baynes, Howard has been limited to 8 points on 2-14 shooting to go with 8 turnovers. . Baynes needs to keep Howard out of the paint and away from the basket, especially on rebounds.

Honorable Mention
Jaylen Brown vs Nicolas Batum
Batum has been playing his best basketball during the Hornets’ win streak, averaging 11.4 points (2.4 three-point field goals), 5.6 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.8 steals over the past 5 games. His length also is a factor for the Hornets on defense. Jaylen will need to be at his best on both ends of the court.

Keys to the Game:
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is the key to winning every game and this one in particular. The Hornets average 106.5 points per game while the Celtics average 103.6 points per game. They average more rebounds, fewer turnovers, and the same 3 point percentage. The biggest difference is that the Celtics are tops in the league with a defensive rating of 101.0 while the Hornets are 14th with a defensive rating of 105.6. The Celtics must continue to make defense a priority and play tough individual and team defense if they want to win this one.

Rebound - The Celtics have been a decent rebounding team this season. They are 9th in the league with 44.3 rebounds per game. The Hornets have been better as they are 3rd with 45.7 rebounds per game. Much of rebounding is effort and 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. The Celtics must be the more aggressive team and play harder from start to finish.

Play Hard 48 Minutes - This season the Celtics have started some games slow and then had to try to dig out from a big hole. Other games they have gotten off to a big lead and then let up and allowed the opponent to come back and take the lead. They have done better with playing hard all game since the break, but they need to keep that up and play hard from the opening tip until the final buzzer.

Play Team Ball - The Celtics play best when they move the ball and find the open man. When they over dribble and try to play hero ball. They have to play TEAM ball and share the ball and no player should try to do too much. They also need to commit to play team defense. The Celtics play the best when the scoring is spread out and no one player has to do too much.

X-Factors
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 as well as the Celtics. The Hornets always play the Celtics tough and they will be extra motivated to keep their win streak going. If the Celtics let down their guard and give it less than 100%, they may end up with a loss.

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. Also since the Hornets are playing back to back, the Celtics need to make them run and try to wear them out.

Injuries - Daniel Theis has been playing very well for the Celtics and they will certainly miss him. The other bigs will need to step up to fill in for all he has been bringing during the recent win streak.