Celts Prepared for Challenging End to Lengthy Road Trip
DENVER – The final step of Boston's season-long, five-game road trip will be a challenging one. Not only will it take on a young and talented Nuggets squad that upended the C's 123-107 on Nov. 6, but it will also do so at the highest elevation in the NBA, at 5,280 feet above sea level.
"You can feel it," Isaiah Thomas said of the elevation. "The first couple minutes of that first quarter, and the third quarter, you can definitely feel it."
The team has already played four games and traveled more than 4,600 miles over the last eight days heading into tonight's contest. However, regardless of those factors, Marcus Smart believes that he and his teammates are in a good place physically to be able to overcome the challenges provided by Denver's elevation and talent level.
"Everybody’s doing a good job of taking care of their body," Smart said prior to Friday morning’s shootaround. “I think we’re doing a good job with our bodies and our bodies are feeling good, and that’s a good sign for us.”
The Celtics will need to not only feel good, but they’ll also need to play well, in order to grab a win tonight. Denver's talent is legitimate, as Boston learned during these teams' first matchup of the season.
The Nuggets are led by emerging young center Nikola Jokic, who ranks ninth in the league in player efficiency rating (26.41) and has logged four triple-doubles on the season. Jokic, however, was termed by head coach Mike Malone as “very questionable” for tonight’s game as the big man battles an illness.
Malone also said that Danilo Gallinari, who leads Denver in scoring with an average of 17.7 points per game, is likely to play after missing the team’s last game with a case of vertigo.
Jokic’s likely absence and Gallinari’s potential struggles are likely to make this contest a bit more winnable for Boston, but Denver is deep with talent and can overcome such issues. Six Nuggets average double-figures in the scoring column this season, and a seventh (Kenneth Faried, at 9.7 PPG) isn’t far behind. Seven Nuggets scored at least nine points against Boston earlier this season.
The C’s, meanwhile, are in a great place on the health front. They have all of their key rotational players all at full health heading into tonight’s game. The only player on the roster who is suffering an ailment is James Young, who is listed as questionable for tonight’s game with a sore lower back.
Such health has allowed Boston to navigate its lengthy road trip well enough to provide itself with an opportunity to head home with a taste of satisfaction in its mouth.
Yes, the C's fell to a lottery-bound Suns team during the second game of this road stretch, but they also shocked Golden State Wednesday night on its home court. Call that an even trade off, one which has placed Boston in a great place ahead of tonight’s tip-off.
A win against Denver would mark a third victory in five games on this road trip, and that's exactly what the team wants. As Jae Crowder told Celtics.com at the start of this trip, "You want to go home with a winning record."
A third victory will not come easily tonight. The Celtics are well aware that they are staring down a battle against a talented team and a high elevation at the tail end of their season-long road trip.