The Celtics continue their West Coast trip with their second game in as many days as they take on the Portland Trail Blazers. This is the second of a 5 game road trip for the Celtics. They lost a tough game in Utah on Friday. They will continue with two games in LA vs the Lakers and Clippers and close out the trip with the red hot Phoenix Suns. Portland is playing in the 3rd game of a 4 game home stand. This is the first of 2 games between these two teams this season. They will play in Boston on January 21.
The Celtics are 8th in the East and have won 2 games in a row before losing to the Jazz. They are 6-7 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 4-3 against Western Conference opponents. The Trail Blazers are 9th in the West and are coming off a loss at home, only their 2nd home loss this season. They are 10-2 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 5-3 against Eastern Conference teams.
These two teams split the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on the road. The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. They are 3-1 so far in the second game of back to back sets. They are 2-0 when the back to back games are both on the road. The Trail Blazers last played on Thursday.
The Celtics have plenty of connections to the Portland area. Ime Udoka played at Jefferson High School, Portland State and with the Blazers in 2006-07. Two of his assistant coaches, Aaron Miles and Damon Stoudamire, are also Portland prep basketball legends. Payton Pritchard also has ties to the area, having played at West Linn High School in Oregon.
Jaylen Brown missed Friday’s game against the Jazz and will be out once again for this game. Al Horford is listed as out for this game also with lower back stiffness. He played a lot of minutes on Friday and so it’s not a big surprise that he is out for this one. I’m guessing that Grant Williams will start in his place. Romeo Langford left Friday’s game after rolling his ankle. He is also questionable for this game and both will likely be a game time decision.
For the Trail Blazers, Anfernee Simons rolled his ankle in Thursday’s loss to the Spurs and has been downgraded to out for this game. They are already without Damian Lillard, who is out with an abdominal injury, and Simons was starting at the point in his place. Dennis Smith, Jr. is likely next in line to start. Nassir Little is also out with an ankle injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (injury management) out
Al Horford (back) out
Romeo Langford (ankle) questionable
Probable Trail Blazers Starters
Trail Blazers Reserves
Greg Brown III
Larry Nance, Jr
Anfernee Simons (ankle) out
Damian Lillard (abdomen) out
Nassir Little (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Dennis Schroder vs CJ McCollum
With Lillard out, McCollum is the Blazers first option. It will be important for the Celtics to slow him down. He is averaging 20.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. He is shooting 42.6% from the field and 39.6% from beyond the arc. Last season in the two games against the Celtics, he averaged 24.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. He also shot 42.1% from three against them. This may be Jaylen Brown vs McCollum if he is cleared to play in this one.
Jayson Tatum vs Norman Powell
Powell returned to the starting lineup on Thursday from a quad injury and is expected to start once again in this game. Powell is averaging 16.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. He is shooting 48.9% from the field and 44.2% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum still struggled from three on Friday but has found other ways to score, including 11 points from the line, and finishing with 37 points. Hopefully he will find his stroke once again as the Celtics will need him in order to win on this tough trip.
Robert Williams III vs Jusuf Nurkic
Nurkic is averaging 12.4 points, 10.6 rebounds,and 2.3 assists. He is shooting 58.2% from the field and 23.5% from beyond the arc. Last season in the two games against the Celtics, he averaged 11.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals. He shot 62.5% from the field and 50% from three against them.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I know I say it every game, but defense is the key to winning every game. The Blazers average 109.2 points and the Celtics average 106.3 points. The Celtics are 5th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.5 while the Blazers are 28th with a defensive rating of 111.8. The Celtics need to continue to make tough defense their priority and identity.
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 last time these two teams played, Enes Freedom was on the Blazers and had just pulled down 30 rebounds in the game before that. The Celtics need to be the team that works harder to win the rebounding battle.
Move the Ball Carefully - One of the keys to winning for the Celtics is to move the ball and find the open man. When they play hero ball, it usually doesn’t end well. While they have to move the ball, they also have to be careful with their passes. The Celtics have a tendency to get careless and turn the ball over at times and they have to avoid those spurts when they turn the ball over multiple times in a row.
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 on both ends of the court. They have to be aggressive in getting to the basket as well and not settle for outside shots, especially if they still aren’t falling. They also need to keep it up for all 48 minutes and not let up from the starting jump ball to the final buzzer.
Back to Back on the Road - The Celtics are on the road and have to deal with travel, a hostile crowd, and an unfamiliar court along with a time change. They have to block out all the distractions that playing on the road brings and concentrate on playing Celtics basketball. The Trail Blazers are tough at home with a 10-2 record at the Moda Center and the Celtics will need to work hard to beat them there. The Celtics are also playing the second game in as many nights after a tough loss on Friday and fatigue may become a factor in this one.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating really is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew calls the game differently whether they call every little ticky tack foul or they let a lot of contact go and let the teams play. Some refs favor the home team and some not so much. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not let themselves get frustrated by the officiating