The Celtics return from the All Star break with a 2 game road trip that starts in Brooklyn against division rival Nets. This is the second game this season against the Nets. The Nets won in Boston on Christmas day 123-95. They will play one more time this season on April 23 in Brooklyn.
The Nets are not the same team that beat the Celtics on Christmas Day. They traded for James Harden, who has played great so far and he makes a big difference for them. Kevin Durant has been ruled out for this game as he tries to come back from a hamstring injury. The Nets signed Blake Griffin over the All Star break and at first he was expected to play in this game but he is being held out as a precaution as he deals with knee soreness.
The Nets are 2nd in the East, just half a game behind the 76ers, who are still in first place. They are 13-6 at home and 9-1 in their last 10 games. They have a 2 game win streak. The Celtics are back in 4th place after a 4 game win streak going into the break. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are 7-12 on the road. They are just half a game ahead of the Knicks in 5th place and 1 game ahead of the Heat in 6th place.
Marcus Smart practiced with the team on Wednesday and said afterward that he felt good and planned to return to action after missing the last 18 games. I’m guessing that he will return to the starting lineup and move Tristan Thompson to the bench and Daniel Theis to center. Romeo Langford was cleared to practice for the first time on Wednesday, but was put into the covid protocols and will need to clear that before he can play.
Kevin Durant has been out with a hamstring injury and will remain out for this game. Bruce Brown started in his place in the Nets last game and so I have him in the starting lineup for this game. Jeff Green has been out with a shoulder injury and is also a game time decision. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is a game time decision with a knee injury. Spencer Dinwiddie is out for the season with a knee injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
Marcus Smart (calf) probable
Romeo Langford (covid) out
Probable Nets Starters
Spencer Dinwiddie (knee) out
Kevin Durant (hamstring) out
Blake Griffin (knee) out
Jeff Green (shoulder) game time decision
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (knee) game time decision
Kemba Walker vs Kyrie Irving
Irving is averaging 27.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists this season. He is a threat to score inside and out. He put up 37 points in the Christmas Day game. Kyrie is shooting 51% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. He is not a great defender, though, so hopefully Kemba continues to play well and can match Kyrie’s scoring.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
Harden is averaging 25.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 11 assists per game. Harden is shooting 49.7% from the field and 42.2% from three as a Net. Hopefully Smart will be back for this game, although he will be on a minutes restriction and will also likely be out of game shape after missing 18 games. However, he has gotten into Harden’s head in the past and if anyone can slow him down, even not at full strength, it is Marcus Smart.
Jayson Tatum vs Joe Harris
Harris is a very efficient scorer. He is averaging 14.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He shoots 53% from the field and 50.6% from beyond the arc. Tatum needs to stick with him on the perimeter or he will have a big scoring night.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Nets are 26th with a defensive rating of 113.6 while the Celtics are 16th with a defensive rating of 111.7. The Celtics must make defense a priority as the Nets average 121.1 points per game and the Celtics will not win a shoot out with them. The Nets are 1st in the league, shooting 50.0% from the field and 2nd in 3 point percentage with 40.7%. The Celtics must play tough defense both inside and on the perimeter.
Rebound - Along with defense, rebounding is a key to winning. You have to have the ball to score and one way to get the ball is to grab rebounds. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics need to put out the extra effort to beat the Nets to the rebounds.
Play Team Ball - When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man they are tough to beat but when they lapse into hero ball, they struggle. The Nets are averaging 27.2 assists per game and that shows that they thrive on ball movement and trusting each other. When the Celtics have high assist totals they usually win and they play well. When they have fewer than 20 assists per game, they usually lose. They must trust each other and play team ball.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics must come out strong at the start and not fall into a hole early. They also have to play hard throughout the game and not slack off on effort for any period of time during the game right up until the final buzzer. Whether they are close or have a lead or are behind, they have to have consistent focus and effort for all 48 minutes.
Revenge Factor - The Celtics lost to the Nets on the national stage on Christmas Day. They should be looking to avenge that loss and even the series in this game.
On the Road - The Celtics are just 7-12 on the road. They have not faced hostile crowds for the most part but there are other factors that can affect their focus, especially for younger players. The Celtics need to keep their focus and not allow the distractions of playing on the road get them sidetracked.
Officiating - Just as defense will always be a key to the game, officiating can always be an x-factor. NBA officiating is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates - you never know what you are going to get. The Celtics have to adjust to however the officials are calling the game.