The Celtics close out the preseason with a game in Miami against the Heat. The Celtics are 2-1 after a loss to the Magic in which the top 6 players sat out for rest and Payton Pritchard left early in the game with a broken nose. The Heat are 4-1 after a loss to the Hawks in which they sat 8 players for rest and 2 for illness. Their starting center was 41 year old Udonis Haslem.
The Heat are playing on the second night of back to back games, having played in Atlanta on Thursday. That shouldn’t be much of a factor since 10 players sat out on Thursday and so their usual rotation guys should be rested and ready for this one. They have started a different lineup in each of their 5 preseason games so far. I would imagine that they will play their normal rotation in this game since it is their final preseason game.
Jimmy Butler has missed the last two preseason games as well as Wednesday’s practice with a cold. He is questionable for this game. If he can play, he will likely be in the starting lineup. As has been the case with every preseason game so far, I have guessed at the starting lineups.
Ime Udoka originally said that he was going to use the first 3 preseason games to experiment with lineups and combinations and that he would likely play the normal rotation in the final game as a tune up for the regular season but that plan went out the window when Jaylen Brown and Al Horford went into quarantine for covid.
Payton Pritchard returned to Boston after breaking his nose in Wednesday’s game. He is expected to be ready for the season opener but will wear a mask to protect his nose. Marcus Smart has been suspended for missing the team flight to Orlando and will miss this game as well. So, the starting lineup will be somewhat pieced together once again.
Possible Celtics Starters
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Romeo Langford
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Robert Williams
Al Horford (covid) out
Jaylen Brown (covid) out
Payton Pritchard (nose) out
Marcus Smart (suspended) out
Possible Heat Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Tyler Herro
SF: Duncan Robinson
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Bam Adebayo
DJ Stewart, Jr
Victor Oladipo (quad) out
Jimmy Butler (cold) questionable
Omer Yurtseven (cold) questionable
Markieff Morris (back) questionable
Players to Watch
Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith and Grant Williams have all impressed in the preseason so far and look to be a big part of the Celtics’ rotation this season. It will be nice to see more growth in these three players in this game and in every game this season.
Kyle Lowry is in Miami after spending the last 9 seasons in Toronto. He will be looking to establish himself in Miami and gain chemistry with his new teammates. He is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game so far this preseason. He is shooting 35% from the field and 41.7% from beyond the arc. Bam Adebayo is coming into his own as the Heat’s starting center. He is averaging 15.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 64.5% from the field. Max Strus began in the NBA on a 2-way contract with the Celtics. He has become a scorer off the bench for the Heat, averaging 13.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. He is shooting 47.4% from the field and 46.4% on 3-pointers. Usually former Celtics have career games against them.
Keys to the Game
Pace - The Celtics were 20th last season in pace and new coach Ime Udoka has said that he is hoping to up the pace this season. We saw some progress in this area so far in the preseason but they still need to work on playing faster. Hopefully will see them continue to play fast and make quick, but good, decisions.
Defense - After being top 4 in defense in previous years, the Celtics dropped to middle of the pack last season. They seemed to lose their edge and allowed way too many easy baskets. Ime Udoka has said that he wants to focus on defense this season. Defense is always a key to winning. Missing Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart will definitely hinder their defense in this game, however.
Aggressiveness - Too often last season, the Celtics allowed themselves to be out-played by other teams that they should have easily beaten. They lost that swagger and edge that allowed them to beat a lot of talented teams in previous seasons. They have been very aggressive in practice, going hard at each other. Hopefully that will transfer to the game and they will be even more aggressive against the Heat.
Improvement - You can’t tell much about the rotation from preseason games, but we can watch individual players and look for improvement in each one. They have all had a full offseason and training camp and this is their final tuneup before the regular season and hopefully we will see improvement in chemistry as well as in individual play.
Next Man Up - The Celtics are already facing adversity in the preseason. Last season with all the injuries, it didn’t seem like anyone stepped up when players were out. Who will step up to fill in for Jaylen, Al, Payton, and Marcus?
On the Road - The Celtics are playing their second straight game on the road. They will start the season with 7 of their first 10 games on the road. Ime Udoka would like the Celtics to be a good road team this season and that starts with this game. It will take focus and chemistry to become road warriors this season.