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Preview: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans Game #45

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The Celtics continue their road trip with a stop in New Orleans to take on Zion Williamson and the Pelicans.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics continue their their road trip with a stop in New Orleans to take on Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. The Celtics beat the Pelicans 140-105 in their first meeting in Boston on January 11. Jayson Tatum had 41 in that game and only Poirier, Langfort and R Williams missed that game for the Celtics. The Pelicans were missing Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, and Zion Williamson.

The Celtics are 4th in the East, just half a game behind both Toronto and Miami. The next few games will determine which of those teams will send their coaching staff to the All Star Game. The Pelicans are 12th in the West, 2.5 games out of playoff position. The Celtics are 12-9 on the road while the Pelicans are 8-15 at home.

Both teams are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 10-5 vs Western Conference teams. The Pelicans are 5-10 against Eastern Conference teams. The short handed Celtics are looking for their 4th straight win. The Pelicans have lost their last two games and are looking for their first win with Zion Williamson in the lineup.

Zion finally made his long awaited debut after missing the first 44 games of the season. The Pelicans have lost both games since his return, although he has played very well in the two games. He was on a minutes restriction in the first two games and will likely still be on one in this game. Darius Miller (Achilles) and Kenrich Williams (back) are both out. Jrue Holiday (knee) is probable.

The Hospital Celtics are still very much in play. Jaylen Brown missed the last two games with a sprained ankle and is questionable for this game. Jayson Tatum missed Friday’s game with a groin strain and is questionable for this game. Both are with the team and are a game time decision.

Marcus Smart sprained his hand in Friday’s game against the Magic but is listed as probable for this game. He will also be a game time decision. Enes Kanter (hip) did not make the trip and is out for this game. Robert Williams (hip) is with the team but is out for this game.

Tacko Fall was called up from the Red Claws for Friday’s game against the Magic. I think he should still be with the team with both Kanter and Williams out. I’ve guessed that the same starting 5 will start this game as started last game if both Tatum and Brown are out. It’s possible that one or both may return for this game but I’d guess that if there is any question they would sit and be fresh for the Miami game on Tuesday.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Carsen Edwards
Javonte Green
Semi Ojeleye
Brad Wanamaker
Vincent Poirier
Tacko Fall

Injuries
Robert Williams III (hip) out
Romeo Langford (G-League) out
Enes Kanter (hip) out
Jaylen Brown (ankle) questionable
Jayson Tatum (groin) questionable
Marcus Smart (hand) probable

Two Way Players
Tremont Waters
Tacko Fall

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Pelicans Starters

Pelicans Reserves
Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Josh Hart
Jaxson Hayes
Frank Jackson
Nicolo Melli
E’Twaun Moore
Jahlil Okafor
JJ Redick

Injuries
Jrue Holiday (knee) probable
Darius Miller (Achilles) out
Kenrich Williams (back) out

Two Way Players
Zylan Cheatham
Josh Gray

Head Coach
Alvin Gentry

Key Matchups

Grant Williams vs Zion Williamson
Grant, or whoever starts here, will have his hands full with Zion. In his first two games, he is averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in just 20 minutes per game. He is shooting 75% from the field and 80% from beyond the arc. I imagine there will be double teams and possibly Marcus Smart or Semi helping out on him as well.

Gordon Hayward vs Brandon Ingram
Ingram has been the Pelican’s best player this season so far. He is averaging 25.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. He is shooting 46.8% from the field and 39.1% from beyond the arc. He is a tough cover but the Celtics need to try to limit him if they want to win.

Honorable Mention
Marcus Smart vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday missed the last meeting between these two teams. He is averaging 19.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He is shooting 43.9% from the field and 34.9% from beyond the arc. He is very capable of putting up big numbers if the Celtics don’t defend him well.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Pelicans average 114.3 points per game (6th) while the Celtics average 112.4 points per game (11th). The Celtics must play tough defense to slow down the Pelicans’ scoring if they want to win this game. The Celtics are 3rd in the league with a defensive rating of 105.2. The Pelicans are 26th with a defensive rating of 112.8. The Pelicans are 6th in pace with 103.21. The Celtics are 17th with a pace of 99.83. The Celtics must play tough lock down defense to slow down the pace and the Pelicans offense if they want to get a win. Defense will decide this game.

Rebound - The Celtics have to crash the boards as a team. Rebounding takes effort and 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 averaging 45.7 rebounds and the Celtics are averaging 45.6 rebounds per game. The Celtics must work harder on the boards if they want to get a win.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have got to be aggressive in going to the basket, playing defense, diving for loose balls and just playing harder. In their losses, it is often because they let their opponent play harder than them. Their effort and aggressiveness can make them very tough to beat and their lack of it can make them vulnerable. It’s possible they underestimated their competition and that’s why they didn’t play hard. They need to play as hard against the Pelicans as they did against the Lakers.

Move the Ball - The Celtics need to keep the ball moving and not lapse into iso’s and hero ball. When the players move and they keep the ball moving, they get good shots and are tough to beat. When their assist numbers are up, they usually get a win. They need to keep the ball moving and play team basketball.

Start Strong and Finish Strong- The Celtics have come out slow and have fallen into a double digit hole in the first quarter in many of their games. They then struggle for the rest of the game trying to catch up. They seemed to stop that for a few games but were behind by 16 against the Magic in the first half. They have to play hard from the opening tip right up to the final buzzer with no let up.

X-Factors
Injuries - The Celtics are dealing with a lot of injuries. It goes without saying that if Jaylen and Jayson can play, the game will be much easier. If there is any question, the Celtics will use caution and sit them out another game. Can Kemba and Hayward pick up the slack once again? Can Grant Williams play like a veteran? Can the reserves come through for the team and score and play defense?

On the Road and Revenge - The Celtics are playing in the 2nd of a 3 game road trip. The longer the team is on the road, the tougher it gets for them. Can the Celtics block out the hostile crowd and the distractions of playing on the road and play well? The Celtics embarrassed the Pelicans in Boston and they are going to be looking for revenge for that game. The Celtics better not underestimate them because with Jrue, Favors, and Zion back, they are not the same team we faced just 15 days ago.

Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently. Some call every bit of contact while some let them play. Some favor the home team and some call it evenly and some are just bad. Hopefully the Celtics get a crew that calls it even and lets both teams play.