Watch It! - Nuggets at Celtics

Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.

Living by the Lawson

Ty Lawson is unquestionably the top player on Denver’s roster. He is far and away the team’s leader in both scoring (19.3 PPG) and assisting (8.2 APG). For the most part, as Lawson goes, so do the Nuggets.

Ironically, Lawson actually racks up far more points and assists during the team’s losses (21.6 PPG, 8.9 APG) than he does in their wins (17.8 PPG, 7.8 APG). The raw numbers, however, aren’t what Denver lives or dies by. Instead, it’s his efficiency in those wins and losses.

Jeff Green posts up against Milwaukee

Jeff Green, who scored 18 points Tuesday night against Milwaukee, has shown a penchant for playing well on the national stage.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

The Nuggets win when Lawson is efficient. During Denver’s 11 victories, the point guard has shot 47.1 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from 3-point range. Compare that to him shooting 41.2 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from downtown in his team’s losses and you’ll quickly understand how important his efficiency is to Denver’s success.

A National Stage

Boston will be playing in front of a national audience tonight for the first time this season. Tonight’s game will account for one of three games the C’s will play on ESPN during 2013-14.

You can be sure that Boston’s players know that this game will be seen across the country. You can also be sure that such a fact will motivate these guys tonight. The Celtics understand that they have been overlooked by many this season. This is their opportunity to show the country that they may not have Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on their team, but they still have a ton of talent that can beat anyone on any given night.

Handling Denver’s Athleticism

There may not be a more athletic team in the league than Denver. The Nuggets have one of the quickest point guards in the league in Lawson, and their starting frontline of Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson all possess supreme length and athleticism.

Boston is a pretty athletic team overall but not all of its bigs are considered to be overly agile. Jared Sullinger and Kris Humphries are successful NBA players because of their basketball IQ and their high skill level. While Vitor Faverani is athletic for his size, he’s still adjusting to the level of athleticism NBA players bring to the table.

The Celtics will certainly be challenged tonight by Denver’s athleticism, particularly in the frontcourt. Sullinger, Humphries, and to a lesser extent, Faverani, will need to figure out how to keep Denver’s gazelle-like big men under wraps.

Protect the Paint

Nuggets shooting chart as of December 6

Denver struggles to make shots from the perimeter, as this shot chart from NBA.com/stats indicates.
NBA.com/stats

Boston will want to turn Denver into a jump shooting team tonight. The Nuggets love to score in the paint, and that’s because they’re an underwhelming team when it comes to shooting the basketball.

There are only two areas of the floor in which the Nuggets shoot the ball well, and that’s from each corner 3 location. Denver is average or below average in every other area. That’s why the Nuggets get to the paint as often as possible. They rank fourth in the NBA in points in the paint with an average of 47.1 per game.

Denver doesn’t necessarily have any low-post threats and Boston realizes that. The C’s will put a high priority on closing down the paint and making the Nuggets hit shots from the perimeter.

Playing with Pace

The Celtics better prepare themselves for a fast-paced contest tonight. NBA.com/stats says that Denver plays with the fourth-fastest pace in the league. Pace is defined as the number of possessions a team averages per 48 minutes. Denver’s pace is 99.22.

Boston is at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to the tempo at which it plays. The C’s rank 20th in the league in pace with an average of 95.66 possessions per 48 minutes.

The Nuggets certainly do not care that the C’s prefer to play at a slower pace. Denver will try to turn this game into a track meet and Boston must be prepared for that.