The Celtics complete their two game road trip in Houston as they take on the Rockets for the first time this season. They will meet again in Boston on April 2. The Rockets have won the series 2-0 in both of the last 2 seasons. The Celtics are 90-55 all time vs the Rockets and 38-33 all time in Houston.
The Rockets have won their last 6 games vs the Celtics and they have won 8 or the last 9 in Houston. This is the first game of a 7 game home stand for the Rockets where they have lost their last 6 games. After this game, the Celtics will head home for a game against the league leading Jazz.
The Celtics slipped to 5th in the East, after their loss to the Nets on Thursday. They are 6.5 games back of first place Philadelphia and are tied with 6th place Charlotte and just .001 percentage point ahead of the 7th place Knicks. They are half a game behind 4th place Miami. The Celtics are 7-13 on the road and 5-7 vs Western Conference teams.
The Rockets have slid down the standings since trading James Harden to the Nets. They are 14th in the west and are 8 games out of playoff position so may have resigned themselves to tanking for the season. They are on a 15 game losing streak and are 5-10 at home. They are just 3-12 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Rockets are very short handed with 7 players expected to be out. PJ Tucker is out as they try to find a trading partner for him. Dante Exum (calf), Eric Gordon (groin), Danuel House (knee), John Wall (knee), and Rodions Kurucs (oblique) and Christian Wood (ankle) are all out as well. Christian Wood has missed the past 15 games, which coincides with the Rockets’ 15 game losing streak.
The Celtics have only Romeo Langford on the injury list due to the league’s health and safety protocols. Marcus Smart returned to the court in Thursday’s game vs the Nets after missing 18 games with a calf injury. He came off the bench in that game and also had a minutes restriction. I’m hoping to see him back in the starting lineup for this game but Brad may stick with the two bigs lineup.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (covid) out
Probable Rockets Starters
PG: Victor Oladipo
SG: Kevin Porter, Jr
SF: Sterling Brown
PF: Jae’sean Tate
C: Justin Patton
Dante Exum (calf) out
Eric Gordon (groin) out
Christian Wood (ankle) out
Danuel House (knee) out
John Wall (knee) out
Rodions Kurucs (oblique) out
PJ Tucker (coach’s decision) out
Kemba Walker vs Victor Oladipo
Oladipo is averaging 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals. He is playing very well and is capable of putting up a lot of points and has had big games against the Celtics in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jaylen Brown guarding him much of the time.
Marcus Smart vs Kevin Porter, Jr
Porter has been playing well for the Rockets since his trade from Cleveland. He is averaging 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks. Smart should be able to slow him down somewhat. If Smart comes off the bench again, Brown will have the task of slowing down Porter. Porter and Oladipo are the only 2 active Rockets who are averaging in double figures.
Jayson Tatum vs Jae’sean Tate
Tate is averaging 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Jayson should be able to win this matchup without a problem. Of course, Brad may start Daniel Theis at power forward if he chooses to bring Smart off the bench once again and start the two centers lineup.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to every game. The Rockets are averaging only 107.3 points per game. The Rockets are 12th with a defensive rating of 110.5 while the Celtics are 19th with a defensive rating of 112.1. With Marcus Smart back, hopefully the Celtics can tighten up their defense as a tough defense is needed if they want to win on a consistent basis.
Rebound - In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. The Celtics average 43.7 rebounds per game while the Rockets average 42.6 rebounds per game. Much of rebounding is effort and when the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game.
Energy and Aggressiveness - The Celtics need to play physical ball and be aggressive on both ends of the court. They have to come out and play hard from start to finish with no let up. Too often when the opponent is injured or a lower seed, the Celtics come out with no energy and allow their opponents to outplay them. The Celtics need to play with energy and be aggressive on both ends of the court.
Move the Ball - The Celtics need to move the ball and avoid over-dribbling and too much iso-ball. They need to make the extra pass and find the open man. When they play hero ball and fail to play team ball, it usually doesn’t end well. But when they move the ball and play as a team, they are tough to beat.
Underestimating - The Celtics have a habit of underestimating teams that are short handed or who have sub-.500 records. Even short handed teams are motivated to play their best against the Celtics and if the Celtics don’t match their effort and energy, they are likely to lose a game they should have easily won.
Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. The Celtics have to play through whatever calls go against them and not allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.