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Celtics begin final Western road trip against the Portland Trailblazers

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The shorthanded Celtics begin a 4 game Western road trip with a stop in Portland to take on the red hot Trailblazers

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics begin a 4 game Western road trip with the 2nd and final regular season game against the Trailblazers this season. They will also face the Kings, Suns, and Jazz on this trip. The Celtics won the first game between these two teams 97-96 on February 4 when Al Horford hit a turn around jumper with 1 second left to give the Celtics the win at home.

The Blazers have been playing as well as any team recently as they had their 13 game win streak broken by a close loss to the Houston Rockets. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games. The Blazers are 25-12 at home and they are 18-11 vs Eastern Conference teams. They are 3rd in the west, 9 games behind second place Warriors and 2 in front of 4th place Thunder.

The shorthanded Celtics have been hit hard with injuries but remain 2nd in the East, 4.5 games behind the 1st place Raptors and 6 games ahead of the 3rd place Cavs. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are coming off a win over the Thunder. They are 18-8 vs Western Conference teams and 24-10 on the road.

The Celtics were also hit hard by injuries when they faced the Blazers at home in February. Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Shane Larkin and of course, Gordon Hayward were all out. It’s possible that the Blazers underestimated them in that one, but they more than likely won’t make that same mistake twice.

Kyrie Irving did not accompany the team to Portland as he went for a second opinion on his knee. He will have a procedure done on his knee and will be out indefintely. Jaylen Brown is with the team but is expected to miss this game and make his return on Sunday against the Kings. Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Gordon Hayward remain out.

For the Trailblazers, former Celtic Evan Turner is listed as probable with lower back soreness. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic is also experiencing lower back sorness and is listed as questionable. CJ Wilcox is out with a knee injury.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Guerschon Yabusele
Shane Larkin
Jabari Bird
Kadeem Allen
Greg Monroe

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Jaylen Brown (concussion) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out

Two Way Players
Jabari Bird
Kadeem Allen

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Trailblazers Starters

Trailblazers Reserves
Wade Baldwin
Zach Collins
Pat Connaughton
Ed Davis
Jake Layman
Meyers Leonard
Shabazz Napier
Georgios Papagiannis
Caleb Swanigan

Injuries
Evan Turner (back) probable
CJ Wilcox (knee) out
Jusuf Nurkic (back) questionable

Head Coach
Terry Stotts

Key Matchups

Terry Rozier vs Damian Lillard
Terry Rozier will have his hands full guarding Damien Lillard who is averaging 26.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game. Lillard averaged 28 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.0 assists in two games vs the Celtics last season. He had 21 points, 3 rebounds and 9 assists in the first game this season. Terry Rozier has gained confidence with more playing time and he needs to continue to play well on both ends for the Celtics to have a chance in this one.

Jayson Tatum vs CJ McCollum
While Rozier is working to guard Lillard, Tatum will have a challenge of his own trying to stay with CJ McCollum, who is averaging 21.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Last season McCollum averaged 27.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals in two games vs the Celtics last season. He scored 22 points in the first game vs the Celtics this season. The Celtics will need to play tough defense to try to control Portland’s high scoring back court duo.

Honorable Mention
Celtics Bench vs Blazers Bench
The Celtics bench is depleted with most of their key reserves either injured or starting. The Blazers reserves are averaging 42.1 points per game while the Celtics reserves who are available to come off the bench in this game are averaging just 22.2 points per game. Every player will have to step up and play harder if the Celtics are to get a win.

Keys to the Game Defense - Defense is a key to winning every game. The Celtics have to continue to play tough defense in order to get a win, especially playing short handed. The Blazers have been the 3rd best defensive team since the All Star break, holding teams to 99.7. The Celtics over that same time are 6th, allowing 104.1 points per game. The Celtics have been missing Marcus Smart on defense, but they have to dig deep and play tough defense as a team in order to get a win.

Rebound - The Celtics must make an extra effort to grab rebounds in order to give themselves extra possessions as well as to keep the Blazers from cashing in with second chance points. The Celtics simply must work harder on the boards if they want to win this one.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the team that works harder and wants the win more. They have to dive for loose balls, go for every rebound and just hustle on every play. They have to be aggressive in getting to the basket as well and not settle for outside shots, especially if they aren’t falling.

X-Factors
Next Man Up - The Celtics have been playing short handed for awhile and players have stepped up to fill in the blanks left by injured teammates. They need to continue to step up and play harder in this one as well. Jaylen Brown should be back on Sunday and we still don’t know about Kyrie, but the Celtics have won short handed before and if they play extra hard and as a team, they can win this one.

On the Road - The Celtics are on the road and have to deal with travel, a hostile crowd, and an unfamiliar court. They have to block out all the distractions that playing on the road brings and concentrate on playing Celtics basketball. Young players especially seem to struggle on the road and so the veterans will need to keep the young players focused and playing the right way.