Both the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets are off to disappointing starts. Both teams have hovered around .500 for most of the season. Both were expected to be at, or near, the top of their respective conferences. The difference, at the moment, is that Denver is riding a bit of a hot streak, coming to Boston with a three-game winning streak. The Celtics are on a downswing, coming off losses to two of the worst teams in the NBA.
Here’s what to watch for on Tuesday night:
1. Can Boston play faster?
The Celtics don’t play at a very fast pace (23rd in the NBA at 98.4 possessions per game). The Nuggets like to play even slower (28th in the NBA 97.3 possession per game). Both teams are going to be without some players (more on that in a bit), but Boston should be equipped to run some in this one.
By getting out and running, the Celtics can steal some easy offense. Denver has been a middle-of-the-pack defense, but has been better recently. Boston is really struggling to score. Finding easy offense would be huge.
2. Who steps up with both sides down injured players?
Boston will be without Marcus Smart again and Daniel Theis was downgraded to out on gameday. That’s arguably the Celtics two best defenders out against the league’s fifth-best offense. Defending Nikola Jokic becomes an even harder task without Theis. Look for Boston to rotate Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams, Grant Williams and maybe even Semi Ojeleye on Jokic throughout the game. Slowing him down some is a big part of the Celtics hopes to win.
Denver is without three starters in Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Gary Harris. The Nuggets have some of the best depth in the league, but that puts a lot on Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to carry the load. This is a great spot for the much-maligned Celtics bench to do some work, as Michael Malone is going to have to go deep into his bench for Denver.
3. Can the Celtics turn turnovers into points?
The Nuggets don’t turn it over a ton. They give it away 13.7 times per game, which is 10th in the NBA. The challenge is that more than half of their turnovers are live-ball giveaways for Denver. That allows teams to get out and run and do some scoring against them.
Because of their length, Boston racks up deflections and, sometimes, steals. Related to speeding up the game, this is a spot for the Celtics to turn those steals into points on the other end. Again, it’s all about Boston finding some easy points to prop up the NBA’s 16th ranked offense.