Watch It! - Rockets at Celtics

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

Avoid the Hangover

The general belief around the NBA is that the toughest game of a cross-country road trip isn’t actually a part of the road trip at all. Instead, it’s the first game back home following the trip.

Jeff Green dunks against the Rockets

Jeff Green and the Celtics are excited to return to TD Garden tonight against the Rockets.
Jared Wickerham/NBAE/Getty Images

Boston was out West for a five-game trip that just ended Saturday night in Portland. They spent nine consecutive days living out of a suitcase before returning home in on Sunday for a night of sleep in their own beds.

If you’ve ever traveled across the country, you have an idea of what the Celtics are dealing with right now. It’s called jetlag. The physical exhaustion of readjusting to East Coast time will be combined with the mental exhaustion of having taken on five consecutive Western Conference playoff contenders. It will be a great challenge for Boston to avoid the post-trip hangover that many coaches fear.

Keep Harden off the Line

James Harden is an electric offensive player. In a league filled with offense, Harden has managed to rank fifth in the NBA in scoring with an average of 24.9 points per game. He has been able to score at that rate despite not being a top-of-the-line shooter.

Harden is able to rack up nearly 25 points a night because of his ability to get to the free-throw line. He ranks second in the league in both free throw attempts per game (9.3) and free throws made per game (7.8). That means that on average, he scores nearly a third of his points every night from the charity stripe.

The Celtics will ask Avery Bradley to defend Harden tonight. Jeff Green may also be assigned to Harden at times. Those guys limited Harden to just two free throws on Nov. 19 as Harden scored 15 points. Duplicating that effort tonight will be critical to Boston’s success.

Will Parsons Play?

Houston has played its last three games without the services of Chandler Parsons. Parsons has been out with a sore right knee but may finally return to the lineup tonight.

His return cannot be taken lightly. Parsons might be the most underrated player in the league. He’s an athletic, two-way player who shoots the ball well from all over the floor. Parsons ranks third on the team in scoring (17.2 PPG), fourth in rebounding (5.4 RPG) and third in assists (3.6 APG). The Rockets will be a much better team if they have him on the court tonight.

Continue the Rebounding Trend

Not all was bad for Boston on its recent road trip. Most notable among the team’s accomplishments on the road was its rebounding trend over the final three games of the trip. Boston took on three consecutive elite rebounding teams over its last three games. Believe it or not, it outrebounded two of them.

The trend began in Los Angeles against Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers. Los Angeles ranks 13th in the league in rebounding but Griffin and Jordan rank first and eighth in the league, respectively, in rebounding average. Boston outrebounded L.A. by a count of 45-37. The C’s then took on the league’s third-best rebounding team, the Warriors, and outrebounded them 49-46. Finally, the trip closed out against Portland, which ranks second in the league in rebounding. The Trail Blazers slightly outrebounded Boston by a count of 49-46.

All in all, the Celtics, who rank 23rd in the league in rebounding, outrebounded those three opponents by a count of 140-132. It would be great to see that trend continue tonight against the Rockets.

Matching up with Dwight

Speaking of rebounding, Houston has one of the league’s best in that department in Dwight Howard. Howard is a five-time NBA rebounding champion and currently ranks third in the league with an average of 12.7 boards a night. Additionally, Howard is scoring 17.9 PPG.

Howard is a beast to handle at both ends of the court. He’s a 6-foot-11 big man who possesses incredible athleticism. Boston doesn’t have one of those guys on its roster, so this matchup might be tough. Kris Humphries has been starting at center and Jared Sullinger has been the top big man off the bench. They’ll have a hefty challenge tonight as they attempt to contain Howard at both ends.