The Celtics conclude their 3 game homestand with a visit from the Houston Rockets. These two teams split the series last season with each team winning on their home court. This is the second and final meeting of these two in the regular season. The Rockets won 127-113 on December 27 in Houston.
The Celtics are 5th in the East, 2 games behind the 4th place Sixers and 2.5 games behind the 3rd place Pacers. The Celtics are 4-6 in their last 10 games and are looking for their 2nd straight win. The Celtics are 24-9 at home and 10-12 vs Western Conference teams.
The Houston Rockets are 5th in the West, 1 game behind 4th place Portland and 2.5 games behind 3rd place Oklahoma City. They are 1.5 games ahead of 6th place Utah. The Rockets are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have a 4 game win streak coming into this game. They are 15-16 on the road and 15-8 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics may get a boost from the return of Aron Baynes, who would definitely help against Clint Capela. Iman Shumpert, who was injured on Wednesday is doubtful for this game. Kenneth Faried and Eric Gordon both missed Thursday’s game but are both listed as probable for this game. Gerald Green started for Gordon on Thursday, but is questionable for this game with a strep throat.
Probable Celtics Starters
Aron Baynes (foot) possible
Two Way Players
Probable Rockets Starters
Kenneth Faried (hip) probable
Eric Gordon (knee) probable
Gerald Green (illness) questionable
Iman Shumpert (calf) doubtful
Two Way Players
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
James Harden is averaging an amazing 36.6 points along with 6.6 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game this season. We know that in the past, Smart has taken up residence in Harden’s head and hopefully he can do the same in this game. Harden is not known for playing great defense and so the Celtics may be able to take advantage of that on offense.
Kyrie Irving vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul missed the game in Houston and so this will be the first matchup between these two point guards this season. Paul is averaging 16.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game. Most of the Rockets’ offense revolves around Harden these days, but CP3 is very capable of putting up big numbers also and so Kyrie is going to have to play defense as well as playing well on the offensive end himself.
Al Horford vs Clint Capela
Capela is averaging 17.0 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.8 blocks. In the first meeting between these two teams in December, Capela put up 24 points and 19 rebounds. The Celtics will need to keep him off the boards especially.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to every game. The Celtics beat the Wizards with defense and if they hope to win this game they are going to need the same in your face lock down defense against the Rockets. The Rockets are averaging 113.4 (11th) points per game of 112.1 (25th). The Celtics are averaging 112.1 (15th) points per game and have a defensive rating of 105.7 (5th). If the Celtics play the defense they are capable of, they can win this game. The Rockets average 118.6 points in their wins and 105.8 points in their losses. Teams that play tough defense can beat them.
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 41.5 rebounds while the Celtics average 44.9 rebounds per game. When the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game. The Rockets are 10th in 2nd chance points with 13.6 per game. The Celtics can limit these by beating the Rockets to the rebounds.
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 have seen many times this season. They have to be aggressive and they have to play like the team that wants it more for 48 minutes.
Move the Ball and Stay Focused - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man. They did this against the Wizards and need to continue to do this even more against the Rockets. They also need to make careful passes because the Rockets are 7th with 18 points off turnovers. If the Celtics lose focus and turn the ball over, the Rockets will make them pay.
Home Game - The Celtics are playing at home once again and should get a boost from the home crowd that will hopefully be loud and rowdy and cheering them on. The Rockets have won 6 of their last 9 on the road, but had lost 10 of 14 on the road before that. The Celtics need to play well so that the crowd will be loud and rattle the Rockets.
Momentum and Energy - The Celtics finally started to play the right way and showed their defensive identity against the Wizards. They need to build on that win and carry the momentum and the energy they played with in the 4th quarter of that game into this game.
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