Nuggets vs. Celtics Preview: Keep Backing Rolling Boston

Kenny Ducey breaks down the betting value in the NBA matchup on Friday night between the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics.

Nuggets vs. Celtics Odds

Nuggets Odds +5.5
Celtics Odds -5.5
Over/Under 218.5
Time 7:30 p.m. ET
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Fresh off an eventful trade deadline which saw them add several key pieces, the Celtics will look to keep the momentum going against an improving Nuggets side.

With so many rotation pieces missing, is Boston in a spot of bother here, or will it be business as usual?

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Nuggets Depth To Be Tested

While Boston is dealing with some absences as it overhauls part of its roster, the Nuggets will be dealing with perhaps the biggest one on either side.

Monte Morris has been ruled out with a concussion, creating a huge hole in the backcourt. Though Austin Rivers is listed as probable, it seems Bones Hyland will be the one to take on more minutes in Morris’ absence.

The rookie was sensational in a 17-point rout of the Knicks earlier this week, scoring 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 4-of-7 from three, which was the third-best output of his career. It’s important to note that given the contributions Morris has made on offense.

With Morris on the floor this season, Denver is scoring a whopping 12.1 more points per 100 possessions according to Conversely, the offense has been 2.6 points worse per 100 possessions with Hyland in the game. The sample size is obviously very limited given the rookie’s ever-changing role on the team, but it certainly doesn’t seem to get better when he’s out there.

Offense will be the name of the game for Denver. It has posted a 120.1 offensive rating over the last five games which has led it to back-to-back wins over New York and Brooklyn. A matchup with a better Boston defense and a game without Morris will really put that to the test.

Boston Finding Its Rhythm

It’s hard to find anything bad to say about the Celtics at the moment. They’ve won six straight games, and in the two games they haven’t covered in during that time they missed the spread by a combined two points. The winning ways have been purely fueled by defense.

Since beginning their streak on Jan. 29, Boston has the league’s best defense by some margin. Its 95.4 defensive rating in the last six games wins out over the Heat’s mark of 105.5 by almost 10 entire points per 100 possessions.

While there have been some bad offenses like Detroit and Orlando tossed in there, the Celtics have also done the job against the likes of Miami and Charlotte. Boston’s great defensive play also dates back incredibly far; its defense has been the best in the league for the last four weeks.

The only thing that can possibly hold the Celtics back in this spot is their depth. Boston traded away Bruno Fernando, Enes Freedom, Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder on Thursday and won’t have the players they acquired in exchange for that group quite yet.

That means Brodric Thomas and Sam Hauser are likely to get the call from the G League for this one, but the Celtics will still have the likes of Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith available to take on a bigger role.

All in all, those absences are likely a good thing. Boston got better on Thursday, adding Derrick White from the Spurs in addition to a few other nice pieces to help with the playoff push. The vibes are great right now with the Celtics.

Nuggets-Celtics Pick

It’s hard for me to see the Nuggets having enough firepower to break through a solid Celtics defense, even with Nikola Jokic on the floor. The spark that Morris has brought on that end, making plays and hitting threes, is really hard for a rookie like Hyland and a volatile player like Austin Rivers to replace.

The Celtics have gotten a lot better around the rim as well, and I’d expect Robert Williams to do a decent enough job here against Jokic to prevent any funny business.

You want to back the elite defense against the depleted offense in this spot without looking back. I’ll go up to 6.5 points on Boston.

Pick: Celtics -5.5 (play to -6.5)