Jrue Holiday rises for a dunk against Boston's Marcus Smart

Top 10 Pelicans Home Games of 2019-20: No. 8 vs. Celtics

by Jim Eichenhofer

Sunday, Jan. 26 (5 p.m., ESPN)

Why it’s on the list

The loss of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford this summer may have reduced some of Boston’s overall star power and name recognition, but the Celtics remain one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, placed fourth by NBA.com in its late-July rankings (behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Toronto). Former Charlotte franchise player Kemba Walker gives Boston an ideal replacement for Irving, joining a talented young core that led the way in ’18, when the Celtics took LeBron James and Cleveland to Game 7 of the conference finals. Promising wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown hope to make major jumps in their third and fourth NBA campaigns, respectively.

Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule

The second half of January is very favorable for the Pelicans, at least in terms of home-road split, with six of eight games from Jan. 16-31 in the Smoothie King Center. However, that’s the only welcoming aspect of the 16-day stretch, because the first five guests are all formidable opponents, including Utah, the Clippers, San Antonio, Denver and Boston. All five teams reached the playoffs this spring.

What’s new in Boston

The headline-grabbing change was Walker in, Irving out, but other roster shuffles will also have a major impact on the Celtics’ fortunes. Some of Horford’s minutes will go to free-agent signee Enes Kanter, who gives Boston a big adept at scoring in the paint; the Celtics also lost reliable center Aron Baynes. Ultimately, the Celtics probably will need breakout years from Tatum and Brown, as well as a resurgence by Gordon Hayward, who will be two years removed from a severe leg injury that sidelined him for 81 games in ’17-18.

Matchups to watch

When The Ringer recently released its under-25 team power rankings for all 30 squads, New Orleans ranked second, spearheaded by the projected WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and Josh Hart. The Pelicans also boast the No. 8 and 17 picks in the recent NBA draft, center Jaxson Hayes and guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Meanwhile, Boston’s youth was placed eighth by The Ringer, primarily due to the presence of Tatum and Brown. There will be a staggering amount of young talent on the hardwood when the Pelicans and Celtics square off over the next few years.

Celtics history in this countdown

This is Boston’s third straight appearance on Pelicans.com’s list, but a slight drop from fourth last season and seventh in ’17-18. Despite being based 1,500 miles from New Orleans, the Celtics tend to have a segment of fans supporting them in the Smoothie King Center, especially those from the demographic that remembers Boston’s glory days of the 1980s.

Other 2019-20 games between these teams

Saturday, Jan. 11, New Orleans at Boston

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