The Celtics are looking to break out of their slump with the Houston Rockets in town. The Celtics beat the Rockets 134-107 in Houston on March 14. John Wall and Christian Woods both missed that game but they did have Victor Oladipo in that one. Houston hasn’t lost the season series against the Celtics in 8 years. The Celtics are 91-55 all time vs the Rockets and 45-21 all time in Boston.
Both teams have changed somewhat since their first meeting. After their March meeting, the Rockets traded Victor Oladipo for 2 former Celtics: Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley. Christian Wood is expected to be in the starting lineup for this one. He will face Robert Williams, Luke Kornet and Moe Wagner rather than Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson in this one.
The Celtics have slipped to 8th in the East. They are one game behind Atlanta (7th) and the Knicks (6th). They are 1.5 games behind the Heat (5th) and Charlotte (4th) and 1 game ahead of Indiana (9th). The Celtics are 3-7 in their last 10 games and 13-9 at home. They have lost their last 2 games. They are 7-12 against Western teams.
The Rockets are 14th in the West. They are 1.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the race for last place in the West and a top lottery pick. They are 7 behind the Thunder and likely have no aspirations of catching them. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and won just 2 of their last 26 games. They are 7-17 on the road and are 4-17 vs Eastern teams.
For a day, Celtics fans thought they might finally get to see Romeo Langford in this game. But after being left off the injury list yesterday, he was downgraded to out in today’s report as he works on his conditioning before returning. Robert Williams missed Wednesday’s game with an illness but was also not on the injury list for this one. Tristan Thompson (covid) and Semi Ojeleye (hip) are both expected to once again be out.
For the Rockets, Dante Exum is expected to be out with a calf injury. Eric Gordon will miss the game with a groin injury. David Nwaba is listed as out with a wrist injury. John Wall missed Wednesday’s game with a knee effusion and is listed as questionable for this game, although his coach said he hoped to have him back. If he can play, he will likely move back into the starting point guard spot.
Probable Celtics Starters
Semi Ojeleye (hip) out
Tristan Thompson (covid) out
Romeo Langford (conditioning) out
Probable Rockets Starters
Dante Exum (calf) out
Eric Gordon (groin) out
John Wall (knee) questionable
David Nwaba (wrist) out
Robert Williams III vs Christian Wood
Wood is averaging 21.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He is shooting 54% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. He missed the first meeting between these two teams and should be the biggest threat for the Rockets in this one.
Kemba Walker vs Kevin Porter, Jr
Porter is averaging 15.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. He is shooting 45% from the field and 23% from beyond the arc. If Wall can play, he will likely start at the point with Porter slipping back to shooting guard. Wall is averaging 20.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.0 steals per game. They are a better team with Wall in the lineup. They may choose to sit Wall just so they are definitely bad enough to get the loss.
Luke Kornet vs Kelly Olynyk
Olynyk was traded to Houston at the deadline in the trade that sent Oladipo to Miami. He is averaging 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He is shooting 45% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc. He usually has a better than his average game against the Celtics, however.
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 17th with a defensive rating of 111.7 while the Celtics are 21st with a defensive rating of 112.2. I’m beginning to believe that the Celtics lack of defense is tied to their lack of effort on most nights. In their comebacks vs the Pelicans and the Mavericks, they played very good defense, which shows that they are capable of playing tough defense. They just choose not to most of the time this season. If they hope to turn things around and make a run going into the playoffs, they must make more of a commitment to playing tough individual and team defense.
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 43.9 rebounds per game while the Rockets average 42.1 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.
Effort and Focus - The Celtics seem to be indifferent most of the time lately. They have played well in spurts, usually after they get down by 20 points or so, but that effort is never consistent. They have been missing wide open shots and free throws and have played hero ball, ignoring open teammates. They need to commit to playing team ball and to be more focused and to play with full effort for 48 minutes and not just for one quarter or when they are down by 20 points.
Underestimating - The Celtics have a habit of underestimating teams that are short handed or who have sub-.500 records. Even bad 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. Especially after blowing the Rockets out in their first meeting, the Celtics need to come into this game expecting to get the Rockets best and respond with their best game.
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. It seems that recently the Celtics have spent more time complaining to the refs than they have playing good basketball. 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.