The Celtics look for their 4th straight win as they host the Charlotte Hornets. This is the first of 4 games between these two teams this season. They will meet in Charlotte on January 14 and January 16 and then meet for the second time in Boston on February 10. The Celtics won the series 3-1 last season, winning both in Charlotte and losing one in Boston.
The Celtics are first in the East, 1.5 games ahead of second place Milwaukee. They are 9-1 at home and 9-1 in their last 10 games. They have won their last 3 games. The Charlotte Hornets are 13th in the East, 1.5 games ahead of last place Detroit. They are 3-8 on the road and 3-7 in their last 10 games. They have won their last 2 games. The Celtics are 8-2 over their last 10 games against the Hornets.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. They are 3-0 so far in the second of back to back games. Charlotte last played on Friday. The Celtics are playing in the 4th game of a 6 game home stand. The Hornets are playing one road game in the middle of 5 home games. The Celtics are 71-45 overall all time against the Hornets and 38-20 all time at home.
Jayson Tatum sat out Sunday’s game against the Wizards with ankle soreness and is not on the injury list for this game. Al Horford will sit out this game with the back soreness that tends to crop up for back to back games. Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with neck soreness and I’m expecting him to sit out to rest as Tatum did on Sunday. Robert Williams III (knee) and Danilo Gallinari (knee) both remain out. I’m making a wild guess that Grant Williams and Blake Griffin will get the start if both sit out.
LaMelo Ball (ankle) is expected to miss his 5th straight game after stepping on the foot of a fan sitting courtside in his first game back from an ankle injury. Gordon Hayward’s bad luck with injury continues as he is out indefinitely with a fracture shoulder. Cody Martin is out for 6 weeks after an arthroscopic procedure on his knee. Dennis Smith, Jr. will miss his second straight game with an ankle injury. Terry Rozier was a late addition to Charlotte’s injury report with an illness but he is listed as probable so is expected to play through it.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Blake Griffin
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Al Horford (back) out
Jaylen Brown (neck) questionable
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Hornets Starters
PG: Terry Rozier
SG: Kelly Oubre, Jr
SF: Jalen McDaniels
PF: PJ Washington
C: Mason Plumlee
Two Way Players
LaMelo Ball (ankle) out
Gordon Hayward (shoulder) out
Dennis Smith, Jr. (ankle) out
Cody Martin (knee) out
Terry Rozier (illness) probable
Marcus Smart vs Terry Rozier
Terry Rozier always tries extra hard to beat his former team and sometimes he tries too hard and beats himself. He is averaging 20.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He is shooting 38.0% from the field and 30.1 from beyond the arc. Rozier is their leading scorer and so the Celtics need to defend him well.
Derrick White vs Kelly Oubre, Jr
Oubre is averaging 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He is shooting 42.7% from the field and 31.8% from beyond the arc. Oubre looks to shoot when he has the ball and the Celtics need to play him for the shot rather than the pass.
Grant Williams vs PJ Washington
Washington is averaging 15.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He is shooting 43.8% from the field and 32.7% from beyond the arc. I’m guessing that Grant Williams will get the start at power forward but Joe Mazzulla may go with Sam Hauser in place of Jaylen Brown and in that case, Jayson Tatum may start at the four.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games. The Celtics must commit to playing tough team defense in each and every game. They have the players to be an elite defensive team, but they haven’t been committing to defense as much as they should. The Hornets are 24th, averaging 109.4 points per game. The Celtics are 1st, averaging 119.8 points per game. The Hornets are 14th with a defensive rating of 111.0 while the Celtics are 16th with a defensive rating of 111.4. The Celtics need to make defense a priority and work harder on that end of the court.
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 16.6 2nd chance points (4th) and so the Celtics have to work harder to get rebounds to prevent extra possessions and 2nd chance points for the Hornets.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics are 4th in the league, averaging 13.1 turnovers per game. However, they tend to go through periods in the game where they lose focus and turn the ball over too much. The Hornets are 9th in the league, averaging 19.0 points off turnovers per game and if the Celtics get sloppy, the Hornets will definitely make them pay.
Focus and Effort - The Celtics need to stay focused on playing the right way. They have to focus on moving the ball carefully, on taking good shots, on going after loose balls and on playing the right way. The Celtics can’t afford to come out with less than 100% effort because even though the Hornets are struggling somewhat, they are coming off of wins over Philly and Minnesota and are very capable of winning games. The Celtics can’t take them for granted and have to stay focused and give their best effort.
Next Man Up - Like they had to do against the Wizards with Jayson Tatum out, the Celtics will need to step up to make up for the absence of Al Horford and possibly Jaylen Brown as well. With back to back games, they will need to depend on their depth even more. Every player will need to give a little bit more to make up for their teammates who are out.
Home Game - The Celtics are playing in their fourth straight home game while the Hornets are playing 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 3-8 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 about every call as refs have been quick to call techs for complaining this season.