The Celtics look to get back on track as they visit the Charlotte Hornets for the second of 3 regular season matchups. These two teams met on April 4 in Boston where the Celtics won 116-86. They will play one more time in Boston in three days on 4/28. The Celtics won the series 3-0 last season and have won 4 straight games against the Hornets.
The Celtics are 67-43 all time against the Hornets. They are 31-24 all time when playing on the road in Charlotte. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games against the Hornets. Both of these teams are fighting for playoff position. Both teams would love to avoid having to play in the play-in tournament that includes the 7th through the 10th seeds and would likely play the Sixers, Bucks or Nets in the first round.
The Hornets are 8th in the East and would be in the playin tournament if they stay at 8th. They are 1.5 games behind 7th place Miami and 2.5 games behind 6th place Boston. They are 3 games ahead of the 10th place Wizards. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 15-12 at home. They are 16-16 against Eastern Conference teams. They are coming off a win over the Cavs on Friday.
The Celtics are in 6th place and would just miss the play-in games. They are 1.5 games behind the 4th place Knicks, who have won 9 in a row. They are 1 game behind the 5th place Hawks and half a game ahead of the 7th place Heat. They are also 2.5 games ahead of the Charlotte Hornets, who they face in this game and again in 3 days. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games and 13-17 on the road. They are 18-16 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics are getting closer to being fully healthy as Jaylen Brown, who missed the past 2 games with bursitis in his shoulder, is expected to return to the team for this game. Kemba Walker, who missed Friday’s game for rest should also be in the starting lineup to face his former team. Robert Williams (knee) is the only player expected to miss this game. Evan Fournier is expected to play as he works his way back into shape after coming back on Friday from an absence due to Covid.
The Hornets are missing former Celtic, Gordon Hayward, who injured his foot just before the last game between these two teams on April 4. He is expected to miss at least 2 more weeks. LaMelo Ball has been cleared to practice after a wrist injury but isn’t expected to play in this one. Nate Darling (ankle) and Malik Monk (ankle) are both expected to be out for this game also.
The Celtics should be close to being healthy with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Tristan Thompson starting. The Hornets are still without a couple of starters and in their last game, they started a lineup without a center with Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier, Cody Martin, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington starting. Since they won that game, I’m guessing that they may choose to start the same lineup, although they may choose to start Biyombo or Zeller at center to match up better.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Probable Hornets Starters
PG: Devonte Graham
SG: Terry Rozier
SF: Cody Martin
PF: Miles Bridges
C: PJ Washington
Vernon Carey, Jr
LaMelo Ball (wrist) out
Nate Darling (ankle) out
Gordon Hayward (foot) out
Malik Monk (ankle) out
Marcus Smart vs Terry Rozier
Rozier has had a chip on his shoulder when playing his former team. He is leading the Hornets with 20.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. He is shooting 46.5% from the field and 40.0% from beyond the arc. Rozier had 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in their first game against the Celtics. He is coming off a 25 point game against the Cavs on Friday. Marcus will need to slow him down to give the Celtics a good chance to get a win.
Jayson Tatum vs Miles Bridges
Bridges is averaging 11.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists but since moving into the starting lineup, he is playing very well. He is coming off a 25 point game against the Cavaliers. He is shooting 50.5% from the field and 40.4% from beyond the arc. Jayson is also coming off a big 38 point game against the Nets and hopefully he will pick up where he left off in that game.
Kemba Walker vs Devonte Graham
Graham is averaging 14.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He is shooting 37.0% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc. Kemba should be rested and ready to play against his former team in the building where he rose to stardom and the Celtics will need him to play well.
Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! - Defense is the key to winning every game. The Hornets average 109.6 points per game while the Celtics average 112.0 points per game. The Celtics are 12th with a defensive rating of 111.1 while the Hornets are 15th with a defensive rating of 111.8. Both teams have improved their defense in recent games. In the 24 games since the All Star game, Charlotte is 11th with a defensive rating of 110.9. In April, the Celtics are 3rd with a defensive rating of 106.5, although they let their defense slip against the Nets. They must make defense a priority if they want to win this game.
Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and desire and when the Celtics have both of those on the boards, that carries through to the other parts of their game. The Hornets average 43.6 rebounds per game while the Celtics average 44.4 rebounds per game. The Celtics must commit to give effort to crash the boards and grab rebounds. They can’t score without the ball and they can’t give up extra possessions to the opponent by failing to rebound and expect to win.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics have been very careless with the ball in recent games. They are averaging 14.3 turnovers per game but against the Suns on Thursday, they turned the ball over 20 times and against the Nets on Friday, they had 19 turnovers. They made a run to cut the lead to 3 against the Nets and then had turnovers on the next 3 possessions. The Nets scored 20 points off those turnovers. The Hornets are 8th with 18 points off turnovers per game and the Celtics MUST take care of the ball to avoid giving them extra points.
Move the Ball and Just Move! - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man. When they have a lot of assists, they play well and when they play hero ball and have few assists, they usually struggle. The Celtics have to move the ball and keep the Hornets defense off balance. They also have to move without the ball and get up the court quickly. They had just 3 fast break points to 32 for the Nets on Friday, and that just isn’t a winning formula. The Celtics have to run more and pick up the pace, while also taking care of the ball.
Play 48 Minutes - Too often the Celtics start off slowly and then have to play catch up. Or sometimes the get off to a good start and build a lead and then take their foot off the gas and allow their opponents to catch up. The Celtics have got to come out strong and play well right from the tip and they also have to play hard right up until the final buzzer. The Hornets are 3rd in the league in clutch win percentage and if the Celtics let them hang around and make it a close game, the Hornets may just sting them.
Matinee Game - Teams often struggle in afternoon games. The Celtics are 3-4 so far this season when playing in games that start at 3:00 in the afternoon or earlier. The Hornets have only played in 3 matinee games so far and they are 1-2 in those games. The Celtics need to shake off the afternoon doldrums and come out strong in this game and play well, no matter what time the game starts.
Former Player Effect - Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Brad Wanamaker are all former Celtics who are now playing for the Hornets. Kemba Walker is a former Hornet and is now playing for the Celtics. It always seems that players always want to beat their former teams and try to have big games against them. Even though Hayward isn’t playing, the team may pick up the mantle and try to win it one for Gordon. Sometimes players do have huge games against their former teams and sometimes they try so hard that they can’t seem to do anything right. It may go either way in this one.
Road Game - The Celtics are playing in their second straight road game. Fans are once again in the buildings and can make a difference for the home team, especially after a year of playing without fans. The Celtics need to focus on playing their game and not on the distractions of having to travel and be away from family and hear the fans cheering their opponents.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Sometimes you don’t even notice the refs but other times, they very clearly make their presence known. Every crew calls the game differently and players never know what to expect. Sometimes they call it tight with a foul for every little bit of contact. Sometimes they let the teams play and allow a lot. Players need to adjust to how the game is being called and not allow the officiating to take their focus off of playing their game.