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Preview: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Game #55

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The Celtics, without Kemba Walker, begin their Western road trip with a stop in Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves without Karl-Anthony Towns.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics begin the post All Star break with a 4 game Western road trip. The first stop is Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves. This is the first of 2 meetings between these two teams this season. They will meet again in Boston on March 29. The Celtics won the series 2-0 last season. The Celtics last lost in Minnesota on February 22, 2016.

The Timberwolves were one of the more active teams at the trade deadline, acquiring eight new players. New to the team are D’Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt, James Johnson. They have only played a few games with these new players and will still be in the process of integrating them and developing chemistry.

The Celtics are 3rd in the East, 1.5 games behind Toronto and 3 games ahead of the Heat. They are 15-11 on the road and have won 8 of their last 10 games. They are 13-7 against Western Conference teams. The Wolves are 14th in the West. They are 7-20 at home and have won just 1 of their last 10 games. They are 8-12 against Eastern Conference teams.

The Celtics are 38-20 against the Timberwolves all time. They are 17-12 all time in Minnesota. This is the Wolves last home game before they head out on a 4 game road trip. This is the first game in a 4 game Western road trip for the Celtics, who will face the Lakers, Trailblazers and Jazz before going back home.

Kemba Walker is out for the Celtics with knee soreness. It appears to be more of a cautionary thing than an injury that will keep him out long term. Robert Williams is on the trip with the Celtics and is practicing with the team but is not expected back until March 1. I expect Marcus Smart to start at the point in place of Kemba.

For the Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns is expected to miss his second straight game with a wrist injury. Newly acquired James Johnson started the last game in his place and I am guessing that he will start this game as well. Jake Layman has missed the past 38 games and is close to a return but will miss this game.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis

Celtics Reserves
Romeo Langford
Javonte Green
Semi Ojeleye
Brad Wanamaker
Grant Williams
Vincent Poirier
Carsen Edwards
Enes Kanter

Injuries/NWT
Robert Williams (hip) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out

Two Way Players
Tremont Waters
Tacko Fall

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Timberwolves Starters

PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Malik Beasley
SF: Josh Okogie
PF: Juancho Hernangomez
C: James Johnson

Timberwolves Reserves
Allen Crabbe
Jarrett Culver
Jacob Evans III
Jaylen Nowell
Naz Reid
Omari Spellman
Jarred Vanderbilt

Injured/NWT
Karl-Anthony Towns (wrist) out
Jake Layman (toe) out Evan Turner (personal) out

Two-Way Players
Kelan Martin
Jordan McLaughlin

Head Coach
Ryan Saunders

Key Matchups

Marcus Smart vs D’Angelo Russell
Although this is the first game against the Timberwolves, this will be their third game against Russell as they played the Warriors twice when he was still with that team. Russell is averaging 23.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. He is shooting 45.7% from the field and 47.1% from beyond the arc. He is the biggest threat to score on the Wolves and the Celtics need to defend him well.

Jayson Tatum vs Juancho Hernangomez
Hernangomez is another newly acquired player for the Wolves. He is averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.3 assists for them. He is shooting 42.9% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc for the Wolves, however, he shot just 25% from 3 for the Nuggets before the trade.

Honorable Mention
Daniel Theis vs James Johnson
Yet another newbie, Johnson came to the Wolves from Miami. He is averaging 9.3 points, 5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game for the Wolves. He is shooting 45.5% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc for them, although he is just 5-10 from 3 since the trade. He shot 35.6% from beyond the arc for the Heat (16-45)

Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics must defend. The offense feeds off of the defense and if the Celtics can’t get stops they struggle on the other end as well. Their identity this season has been their tough and gritty defense, but they have let it slip at times when they are not focused as a team. The Celtics are 3rd in the league with a defensive rating of 105.7 while the Wolves are 17th with a defensive rating of 110.4. The Celtics need to make defense a priority.

Rebound - The Celtics must get rebounds to prevent second chance points and fast breaks for the Wolves. The Wolves are 8th in the league with 14 second chance points per game. Rebounding takes effort and desire and the Celtics have got to show both and crash the boards as a team. When they put out the effort on the boards, it also translates to the other parts of their game.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be aggressive in going after loose balls and rebounds and in taking the ball to the basket. They also have to be aggressive on defense. When they are aggressive in going to the hoop good things happen. The Celtics have to be the team that plays harder and is more aggressive on both ends of the court.

Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have had games where they play very well in the first half and build a lead but then let up in the second half. Then in other games they dig a hole in the first half and then play very well in the second half to come back. They have to get off to a strong start and play hard from start to finish with no letup.

Don’t Underestimate - The Celtics need to approach this game as though they were playing the top team in the West. They can’t come into the game expecting an easy game because of the Wolves record and new players and the fact that Towns is out. That is just when the Wolves will play their best game of the season and if the Celtics aren’t ready for it, they may get surprised with a loss.

X-Factors
On the Road - The Celtics are embarking on a 4 game road trip. The Celtics have to focus on playing their game and not let the distractions of the road take them out of their game. Young players especially tend to struggle on the road. The Celtics need to play together as a team with the veterans keeping the younger players focused on the game, not on the distractions of the hostile arena.

Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Will they let them play or will they call every ticky tack foul? It’s usually to the Celtics’ benefit if they let both teams play. Will they call it fair or will they favor one team over the other? One never knows what any given crew will do. They need to expect home cooking for the Wolves and stay focused and not allow bad calls take them out of their game.