The Celtics host the Charlotte Hornets for the 2nd of 4 meetings between these two teams this season. The Celtics won the first meeting 140-129 in overtime on October 25. That game was in Charlotte. They will meet once more in Boston on February 2 and again in Charlotte on March 9. The Celtics won the series 2-1 last season. The Celtics are 69-44 all time against the Hornet and they are 39-17 all time at home.
The Celtics have moved back up to 10th in the East after their win over the Pelicans on Monday. They have won their last 2 games and 4 of their last 5. They are 15-8 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 16-12 against other Eastern Conference teams. The Celtics are tied with 9th place Toronto and half a game behind the 8th place Wizards. They are also 1.5 games behind the 7th place Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets are in 7th place in the East. They won their last game and they have won 5 of their last 6 games. They are 12-14 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 16-10 against other Eastern Conference teams. They are 1 game ahead of 8th place Washington and 1.5 games behind 6th place Philadelphia. This game could be big for positioning in the standings.
The Celtics are playing in the third game of a four game home stand. They won the first game in the home stand over the Chicago Bulls 114-112. They followed that with a 104-92 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. They will close out the home stand on Friday against the Portland Trailblazers. They will then travel to Washington for a matinee game on Sunday before returning home to face the Kings on Tuesday. The Hornets are playing in the second game of a 2 game road trip. They won the first game 97-87 over the New York Knicks on Monday.
Both teams are very close to full strength. Marcus Smart has missed the last 4 games due to health and safety protocols. They are waiting for 2 straight negative tests for him to rejoin the team. He is questionable for this game and his status is a game time decision. If he can play, I expect that he will return to the starting lineup. Robert Williams is expected to play after missing the last game for the birth of his son.
Aaron Nesmith is questionable after rolling his ankle in the 4th quarter of Monday’s game. Wednesday began with a trade of Juancho Hernangomez for Bol Bol and PJ Dozier. Both Bol and Dozier are injured so won’t be on the active roster even after the trade is finalized. Kelly Oubre, Jr is questionable for the Hornets due to health and safety protocols after missing the last 4 games. He will also be a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Marcus Smart (covid) questionable
Aaron Nesmith (ankle) questionable
Probable Hornets Starters
PG: LaMelo Ball
SG: Terry Rozier
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Miles Bridges
C: Mason Plumlee
Vernon Carey, Jr
Kelly Oubre, Jr (covid) questionable
Al Horford vs Miles Bridges
Bridges has been playing very well for the Hornets. He is averaging 20.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He is shooting 48.0% from the field and 32.5% from beyond the arc. He is coming off a 38 point game against the Knicks on Monday. He put up 25 points and 10 rebounds in the first game against the Celtics.
Dennis Schroder vs LaMelo Ball
Last year’s Rookie of the Year has played very well this season. He is averaging 19.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. He is shooting 42.1% from the field and 36.9% from beyond the arc. He had 25 points and 9 assists in the first game against the Celtics. The Celtics definitely need to try to slow him down. If Marcus Smart can play, I expect him to start at the point.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum vs Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward
This is a matchup of the Celtics 2 stars against two former Celtics, both of whom are playing very well this season. Rozier is averaging 18.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He is shooting 43.4% from the field and 37.8% from beyond the arc. Hayward is averaging 17.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while shooting 46.9% from the field and 39.1% from beyond the arc. Former Celtics usually try harder against their former team and many have big games when they face the Celtics. Jaylen and Jayson definitely need to slow these two down and keep them from having big games.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games. The Celtics must commit to playing tough team defense if they hope to win this game. They have the players to be an elite defensive team, but they need to make defense a priority and every player must commit to playing lock down defense. The Hornets are 2nd, averaging 114.5 points per game. The Celtics are 19th, averaging 107.6 points per game. The Hornets are 4th, shooting 37.3% from beyond the arc. The Celtics won’t win a shoot out against this team and so they must get stops and play tough defense.
Rebound - Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics need to crash the boards as a team and fight for every rebound. The Celtics must beat the Hornets to rebounds to give themselves extra possessions and to keep the Hornets from getting the same. The Hornets average 13.2 2nd chance points and so the Celtics have to work harder to get rebounds to prevent extra possessions and 2nd chance points for the Hornets.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have fallen into the habit of letting teams out-work them at times. At one time, the Celtics were able to win games by playing harder than their opponents regardless of the talent on their team. The Celtics must be more aggressive on the boards, on defense, on going for loose balls and they have to be aggressive in going to the basket. They can’t allow the Hornets to play harder than them.
Stay Focused - The Celtics must stay focused on playing the right way. They have to take care of the ball because the Hornets are 2nd in the league with 19.1 points off of turnovers per game. The Celtics tend to lose focus and turn the ball over in bunches. They have to focus on making crisp passes and on not turning the ball over. They also have to focus on taking good shots and making them.
Home Game - The Celtics are playing in their third straight home game while the Hornets are playing in their second straight game on the road. The Celtics should get a boost from the home crowd and from being in the friendly confines of the TD Garden. The Hornets are 12-14 on the road and have to deal with all the distractions that come with playing on the road. The Celtics need to protect home court.
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 them to be physical. 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. And they definitely don’t need to complain after every call.