The Celtics host the Portland Trailblazers for the 2nd and final game between these two teams this season. The Celtics won the first game 145-117 in Portland on December 4. The Trailblazers were missing Damian Lillard in that game while the Celtics were missing Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Romeo Langford. These two teams were 1-1 last season with each team winning on the road.
Portland is playing in the 5th game of a 6 game road trip. They are 2-2 so far on the trip and will head to Toronto for the final game of the road trip on Sunday. They will head home for 2 games before heading out on another 4 game road trip. The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 4 game home stand. The Celtics will play at Washington on Sunday before a home game against Sacramento on Tuesday.
The Celtics have moved up to 9th in the East, in spite of their loss to the Hornets on Wednesday. They are just half a game behind the 8th place Wizards and 2.5 games behind the 7th place Hornets. They are 15-9 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 7-10 against Western Conference teams. They are tied with the 10th place Raptors but own the tie breaker with them. They are half a game ahead of the 11th place Knicks.
The Trailblazers are 10th in the West. They lost their last game and are 4-15 on the road. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 10-7 against Eastern Conference teams. They are 1.5 games ahead of the 11th place Kings and just 5 games ahead of 15th place in the West. They are 3 games behind the 9th place Los Angeles Clippers. The Celtics are 71-48 all time against the Blazers and 38-20 all time in Boston.
Marcus Smart is still listed as questionable for this game for conditioning after being in the health and safety protocols. I’m thinking positively and have included him in the starting lineup. If he is out once again, Dennis Schroder will likely get the start. Rob Williams is not on the injured list after missing the past two games for the birth of his child. Aaron Nesmith is questionable with an ankle sprain. The trade is now official and so Bol Bol is on the list after foot surgery and will be out 8-12 weeks. PJ Dozier is out for the season after an ACL tear.
The Trailblazers are short handed with 4 players out and 2 players questionable. Anfernee Simons is probable after playing through an ankle injury on Wednesday. Nassir Little is questionable with patellar tendinopathy. If he can’t play, I’m not sure who will start, but possibly Tony Snell. Damian Lillard is out after having abdominal surgery. Larry Nance, Jr is out with inflammation in his knee. Norman Powell is out for personal reasons and Cody Zeller is out with soreness in his knee.
Probable Celtics Starters
Aaron Nesmith (ankle) questionable
Marcus Smart (conditioning) questionable
Bol Bol (foot) out
PJ Dozier (knee) out
Probable Trailblazers Starters
Trail Blazers Reserves
Greg Brown III
Dennis Smith, Jr
Anfernee Simons (ankle) probable
Nassir Little (knee) questionable
Damian Lillard (abdomen) out
Larry Nance, Jr (knee) out
Norman Powell (personal) out
Cody Zeller (knee) out
Two Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs CJ McCollum
McCollum is averaging 20.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.1 steals. in the first meeting between these two teams, he had 24 points, 6 assists and 1 rebound. In 15 career games against the Celtics he is averaging 20.2 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 assists. He is shooting 43.0% from the field and 39.3% from beyond the arc. Jaylen is coming off a game where he went 2-11 on three pointers. The Celtics need more from him on offense and also solid defense to slow McCollum down.
Robert Williams III vs Jusuf Nurkic
Nurkic is averaging 14.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. He is shooting 53.9% from the field but just 19.0% from beyond the arc. Hopefully Robert Williams will be back for this game and he needs to keep Nurkic off the boards and out of the paint.
Marcus Smart vs Anfernee Simons
Simons is averaging 14.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. He is shooting 44.7% from the field and 39.2% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to guard him on the perimeter because he can get hot from out there. Hopefully Marcus Smart will return for this game although if he does, he may be on a minutes restriction. If he can’t play, Dennis Schroder should get the start at the point once again.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I know I say it every game, but defense is the key to winning every game. The Trailblazers average 108.3 points and the Celtics average 107.5 points per game. The Celtics are 5th in the league with a defensive rating of 107.1 while the Blazers are 29th with a defensive rating of 114.1. The Celtics need to continue to make tough defense their priority and identity. If they struggle on offense again but play tough defense, they can still get a win. The Celtics struggled offensively against the Hornets, but it was more the fact that they allowed them to shoot 48.8% from the field and 41.0% from beyond the arc that was responsible for their loss.
Rebound - The Celtics must make an extra effort to grab rebounds in order to give themselves extra possessions as well as to keep the Blazers from cashing in with second chance points since they average 13.8 second chance points per game. The Celtics must be the team that works harder on the boards if they want to win this one.
Move the Ball Carefully - One of the keys to winning for the Celtics is to move the ball and find the open man. When they play hero ball, it usually doesn’t end well. While they have to move the ball, they also have to be careful with their passes. The Celtics have a tendency to get careless and turn the ball over at times and they have to avoid those spurts when they turn the ball over multiple times in a row. The Blazers average 15.9 points off turnovers and so the Celtics need to avoid turning the ball over.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the team that works harder and wants the win more. They have to dive for loose balls, go for every rebound and just hustle on every play on both ends of the court. They have to be aggressive in getting to the basket as well and not settle for outside shots, especially if they still aren’t falling. They also need to keep it up for all 48 minutes and not let up from the starting jump ball to the final buzzer.
Focus - The Celtics need to come in focused and stay focused throughout the game. They need to focus on their shots and shot selection. They need to focus on making their free throws. They need to focus on playing defense and making the right switches. They need to focus on making good passes and not turning the ball over. And they need to focus on sharing the ball and making the right play. Lack of focus results in those horrible shooting nights and high turnover games.
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home. They should get a boost from playing at home in front of their home crowd. The Blazers have not been a good road team so far with a 4-15 road record and so the Celtics need to stay focused and not give them any confidence or help them by turning the ball over or shooting poorly.
Revenge Factor - The Blazers lost a tough one on their home court when the Celtics beat them 145-117 in their meeting in Portland. That was an embarrassing loss for them and I’m sure they will remember it and play a little harder as they look to avenge that earlier loss. The Celtics have to be ready for them to play hard and come at them with a vengeance. However, the injury factor may override the revenge factor in this one with so many of Portland’s players out.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating really is always an x-factor in every game. 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. Some refs favor the home team and some not so much and sometimes they just make a bunch of head scratching calls. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not let themselves get frustrated by the officiating.