The Celtics begin a 3 game road trip with a stop in New Orleans to take on the Pelicans. The trip will end in back to back games in Dallas and Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday. These two teams went 1-1 last season with each team winning on their home court. The Celtics are 10-19 all time against the Pelicans and 8-11 all time in New Orleans.
The Celtics are 4th in the East, tied with the Pacers, but they hold the tie breaker. They are 4.5 games behind the first place 76ers. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 7-9 on the road. The Pelicans are 12th in the West, 3.5 games out of 8th place. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 7-7 at home. They have lost their last 2 games.
We will get to see two of the top duos in the league this season facing off in this game. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are the only pairs of teammates who both rank in the top 20 in scoring. Brown is 11th and Tatum is 13th. Willimson is 14th and Ingram is 19th. Both of these teams have a bright future with these duos as their core.
The Celtics have won 2 of their last 3 games and played well on both ends of the court against the Hawks on Friday as they won 121-109. The Pelicans have lost 5 of their last 6 games.. On Friday against Phoenix, they had an 11 point lead going into the 4th quarter but were outscored 41-12 in the 4th quarter for a home loss.
The Celtics went back to the double big in Friday’s game and it was very effective. That line up is now 2-1 on the season. The Celtics have used 16 different lineups this season with 13 different players starting at least one game. It has been difficult this season to predict who will start each game. This starting lineup for the Pelicans is 0-1. Willy Hernangomez got his first start of the season on Friday and was the 10th different Pelican to start a game.
Marcus Smart (calf) and Romeo Langford (wrist) are the only 2 players on the injury list on Saturday. Jaylen Brown was questionable for Friday’s game but played and is not listed for this game. For the Pelicans, Steven Adams is listed as questionable with a sprained ankle. He did not play on Friday and didn’t practice on Saturday and is considered a game time decision. If he is able to play, he will likely return to the starting lineup.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Daniel Theis
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Probable Pelicans Starters
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Eric Bledsoe
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Zion Williamson
C: Willy Hernangomez
Kira Lewis, Jr
Steven Adams (ankle) questionable
Stan Van Gundy
Daniel Theis vs Zion Williamson
Assuming that Brad once again goes with the double big lineup, Theis will have his hands full with Zion. Zion is averaging 25.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. He is shooting 55% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. IN one game vs Boston last year, he put up 21 points and 11 rebounds. The Celtics need to find a way to slow him down in this game.
Jayson Tatum vs Brandon Ingram
Ingram has been playing very well this season. He is averaging 23.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 47% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. He is a tough cover and the Celtics will need to slow him down in order to get the win.
Kemba Walker vs Lonzo Ball
Ball is averaging 14.3points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 44% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. He is very capable of putting up big numbers if the Celtics don’t defend him well. Kemba has been getting closer to his old self. In his last 4 games, he is averaging 22.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He scored a game high 28 points on Friday and the Celtics will need him to continue to play like that in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Pelicans average 114.6 points per game (8th) while the Celtics average 110.7 points per game (22nd). The Celtics must play tough defense to slow down the Pelicans’ scoring if they want to win this game. The Celtics are 10th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.1. The Pelicans are 29th with a defensive rating of 115.9. The Pelicans have struggled with their 3 point defense and at times the Celtics have struggled with their perimeter shooting. The Celtics can’t expect to win a shoot out with the Pelicans and so they must make defense a priority to get a win.
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 45.9 rebounds (5th) and the Celtics are averaging 43.8 rebounds per game (20th). The Pelicans are first in the league with 15.4 second chance points and so the Celtics are going to have to work hard to keep them off the boards if they want to win.
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. In their losses to the Wizards (14), Pistons (15) and Hawks (19) they had fewer than 20 assists. In their recent wins against the Nuggets and Hawks, they had 26 assists and in their big win over the Clippers they had 30 assists. They have to move the ball and play as a team.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have got to be aggressive in going to the basket, playing defense, diving for loose balls and just play 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 underestimate their competition and come out with less than full effort and they lose to sub .500 teams. They are once again facing a team that is under .500 and they can’t afford to come out with less than 100% effort or they may be facing another loss.
On the Road - Even though there aren’t fans in the stands, the Celtics haven’t played their best on the road. Whether it is the travel, hotel living, or an unfamiliar arena, the Celtics have not played their best on the road. They need to come in focused and not allow the distractions of playing away from home to keep them from playing their best.
Underestimating Teams- Danny Ainge recently said that he feels that this team underestimates their opponents. They have come out flat against bottom team like the Pistons and Wizards and those teams made them pay for it. We know that when the Celtics play team ball and play with max effort, they are tough to beat. They cannot expect to beat teams just by showing up. They have to respect every team as one that can beat them on any given night.
Officiating - Officiating always has the possibility to be 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. However the game is called, they need to focus on the game and not allow bad or no calls take that focus away