The Celtics begin a 3 game road trip with a stop in Denver to take on the streaking Nuggets. The Celtics beat the Nuggets 112-99 in Boston on February 16. This is the second and final regular season meeting between these two teams. They tied the series 1-1 last season, with each team winning on their home court.
The Celtics are 56-37 all time against the Nuggets but they are just 18-28 all time in Denver, where it is tough to get a win because of the altitude. The Celtics have won 4 of their last 5 games, all of which have been at home. The Nuggets have won their last 8 games and 17 of their last 20 games. They have not lost since acquiring Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee at the trade deadline.
The Celtics are 7th in the East. They are .5 games behind Miami (6th) and 1 game behind both Atlanta (5th) and Charlotte (4th). They are one game ahead of New York (8th) and 2 games ahead of Indiana (9th). The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games and 10-16 on the road. They are 9-12 against Western Conference teams. They are looking for their 3rd straight win.
The Nuggets are 4th in the West. They are 1 game behind the Clippers, who are 3rd and 1.5 games behind 2nd place Phoenix. They are 5 games behind the first place Utah Jazz. They are 2 games ahead of the 5th place Lakers. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games and 18-9 at home. They are 16-7 against Eastern teams. They are looking for their 9th straight win.
The Celtics may be without their star duo in this game. On Saturday’s injury list, Jayson Tatum was listed as questionable with a non-covid illness. Jaylen Brown was listed as questionable with knee soreness. I’m not sure who would start if either or both are out but my guess would be Romeo Langford and Grant Williams. I’ve included both in the starting lineup here just for wishful thinking reasons. Evan Fournier is listed as out due to health and safety protocols.
For the Nuggets, their star guard Jamal Murray is listed as questionable. He has missed 3 the Nuggets’ last 3 games with knee soreness and is listed as questionable for this one. If he can’t play, Facundo Campazzo or Monte Morris should get the star. I’ve not listed him as a starter also for wishful thinking reasons. Also questionable is Shaquille Harrison who was just signed to a 2-way contract.
Probable Celtics Starters
Evan Fournier (covid) out
Jayson Tatum (non covid illness) questonable
Jaylen Brown (knee) questionable
Probable Nuggets Starters
Jamal Murray (knee) questionable
Shaquille Harrison (not injury related) questionable
Robert Williams III vs Nikola Jokic
Jokic is the leading candidate for MVP this season. He is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game. He is shooting 57% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc. He is fairly close to unstoppable. If you double him, he is one of the best passers in the league and will find the open man. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, we should see Tristan Thompson guarding Jokic for portions of the game as well.
Jaylen Brown vs Michael Porter, Jr
Porter is averaging 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assists. He is shooting 54% from the field and 44.7% from beyond the arc. If Jaylen can’t start, I will take a guess that Romeo will start and be given the defensive challenge of guarding Porter. Either way, the Celtics need to cover him both inside and on the perimeter.
Jayson Tatum vs Aaron Gordon
Gordon is averaging 14.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He is shooting 58% from the field and 27.8% from beyond the arc, although he shot 37.5% on 3’s in Orlando. Gordon has been playing very well for the Nuggets and because of that, they have not lost since acquiring Gordon from the Magic. If Tatum can’t play, I will guess that Grant Williams will get the start here.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to every game. The Celtics are 17th with a defensive rating of 111.8 but their defense has been very inconsistent this season. The Nuggets have a defensive rating of 111.7, which is 15th. The Celtics average 112.5 points per game while the Nuggets average 115.6 points per game. Denver shoots 49.0% from the field while the Celtics shoot 46.9%. The Celtics shoot 37.7% from three while the Nuggets shoot 38.9% on 3 pointers. The Celtics need to make defense a priority if they hope to get a win in this game. Even with Jaylen and Jayson they won’t likely win a shoot out with the Nuggets.
Rebound - The Nuggets average 44.5 rebounds per game and Celtics average 43.9 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics have to work harder to grab rebounds to limit the Nuggets second chance points and fast breaks. The Nuggets get 13.8 second chance points per game (7th). The Celtics can’t allow the Nuggets to outwork them on the boards.
Move the Ball - The Celtics play very well when they move the ball and find the open man. When the ball sticks and players try to do too much, take quick shots, and dribble too much, the Celtics struggle. When the Celtics have 25 or more assists they usually win while when they have fewer assists they often lose. The Nuggets average 27.2 assists per game and they have had 17 straight games with 25 or more assists. The Celtics must move the ball and look for the open man and play as a team.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics have been very sloppy with the ball in recent games. They have had 17 or more turnovers in their last 3 games, with 20 turnovers against the Timberwolves on Friday. The Celtics need to be more focused and be careful with their passes and also when they are dribbling and not turn the ball over. The Nuggets average 18.0 points off turnovers and so if the Celtics are sloppy in this one, the Nuggets will make them pay.
Altitude - It’s tough to win in Denver because of the altitude that the teams are playing at. Denver is called the Mile High City because it is 5,280 feet above sea level. Nuggets players are used to the altitude but visiting teams often struggle with playing there and often are fatigued before the end of the game. It is a very unique home court advantage.
Who’s Playing and Who’s Out - Both teams have key players listed as questionable. Jamal Murray is a key player for Denver, although they have won their last 3 games that he has missed. If he is out, that is a break for the Celtics. As for the Celtics, it goes without saying that they would desperately miss both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum if they can’t play. Both teams were short handed in their first meeting this season and the Celtics would be hurt much more by missing Jaylen and Jayson than the Nuggets would be by missing Murray in this game.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating can always be an x-factor. 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. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not let the calls affect their focus or their play.