Game Preview: Celtics at Nuggets

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Boston is known for its celebration of St. Patrick’s day, and the Celtics (23-20) will look to join in on the fun tonight from 2,000 miles away.

The Celtics are in Denver for the fifth game of their eight-game road trip and will take on the Nuggets (24-20) at 9 p.m. tonight in the Pepsi Center. The C’s will be looking to bounce back from a brutal loss Friday night in Sacramento that surprised everyone who was watching.

The Celtics made their way from Los Angeles to Denver over the course of six days and in the process went 2-2. They split their two games in Los Angeles, knocked off the Warriors and then were pounded by the Kings last night to even out their record on the road trip.

Boston has been very consistent since the All-Star break but Friday night was an exception. Instead of using the balanced scoring attack and stout defense that had pushed them four games above the .500 mark, the Celtics struggled defensively and had just three players score more than 10 points. Five of the nine Celtics who played more than 10 minutes in Sacramento finished with plus/minus ratings of at least minus-15.

The drubbing at the hands of the Kings was completely unexpected, but it could serve as a motivating factor heading into tonight’s game against the Nuggets. The Celtics and Nuggets have not met this season, and Boston will certainly be drooling for a victory when it makes its way onto the floor tonight.

Grabbing that win will be quite a challenge against a Denver team that has been off since Thursday and will be energized to play its first game with its new roster. The Nuggets traded their franchise center, Nene, who had signed a massive deal with the team this summer, on Thursday to Washington in a three-team trade that landed center JaValee McGee in Denver. The Nuggets played shorthanded Thursday night, so this should be their first action with McGee in the fold.

McGee has been known for some missteps in his career, but the man can play basketball. He brings averages of 11.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 2.5 BPG along with him to Denver and could be a perfect addition to an already athletic and long squad. The Nuggets already possessed great athleticism and length from the top of their roster to the bottom. That depth increased when McGee was brought into the fold.

This Denver team isn’t known for its superstar punch, but it is known for its depth. George Karl can literally go 10 deep on any given night without blinking an eye. With the addition of McGee, the Nuggets now have nine players who are averaging at least 8.6 PPG and seven players who average at least 4.5 RPG. That, my friends, is depth.

One thing the Celtics do not have at the moment is depth, which means the starters be leaned on heavily if the team is to grab a win tonight. Taking on the Nuggets in the thin air of Denver is never easy, as evidenced by Boston’s two consecutive losses in the Pepsi Center, but Boston does have the firepower to grab the win. However, the Celtics may need a little extra luck from St. Patrick to help push them over the hump in the second night of a back-to-back.

A Brutal Scenario

Doc Rivers must have shuttered when he saw this game on the schedule. It just so happens to be the fifth game of an eight-game road trip, the second night of a back-to-back, and it will be played in the high altitude of Denver. Talk about a tough order of business for Boston.

The Celtics will need to pull everything they can out of the their personal tanks and leave it all on the Pepsi Center floor tonight. With Denver being such a deep team and playing after a day off, this is a recipe for disaster for the Celtics. It’s not a challenge Boston can’t overcome, though. All they need is solid play from their top eight players, and we all know that this group is fully capable of delivering such a performance when the lights are on.

Take Care of the Ball

Boston could not afford to turn the ball over last night in Sacramento against a team that had a drastic advantage in athleticism. Still, the C’s went on to commit 19 turnovers that led to 26 Sacramento points, and the Kings scored a total of 32 points on the fast-break.

The Celtics are in a similar position tonight in Denver. This Nuggets team isn’t as athletic as the Kings, but they love to force turnovers and get out in transition. Denver forces the fifth-most turnovers in the league, at 15.9 per game, and scores a league-high 20.2 fast-break points a night.

Boston will already be playing on tired legs and will have a tough time physically while playing in the high altitude of Denver. It cannot afford to give the ball up and allow the Nuggets to score easy baskets.

Find the ‘D’

Anyone who follows the NBA knows that the Boston Celtics take pride in their defense above everything else. This team wants to smother your offense, make you uncomfortable and force you into bad shots.

It did none of those last night.

Sacramento’s offense was unstoppable en route to a season-high 120 points on 53.5 percent shooting. The Kings drilled nine of their 21 3-point attempts and had three players score at least 20 points.

The Kings have a lot of offensive power, but not as much as the Nuggets. Denver ranks first in the league with an average of 103.8 PPG and ranks third in the league with an overall shooting percentage of 46.7 percent. The Nuggets can put points on the board in a hurry.

Great defense will always beat great offense in the long run, though, and Boston knows that better than any team in the league. The Celtics are dominant in nearly every defensive statistic available. They can shut down a great offense, and they’ll be eager to do so tonight after their lackluster performance in Sacramento 24 hours ago.