Portland Trail Blazers (18-27) at Boston Celtics (26-16)
Jan. 21, 2017, 2:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out)
Celtics injuries: Avery Bradley (out), Tyler Zeller (day-to-day), James Young (out)
SBN Affiliate: Celtics Blog
The Trail Blazers will try to avoid going winless on their current road-trip when they face the Celtics tonight. Portland must recover quickly from its soul-crushing loss in Philadelphia yesterday, as Boston presents the toughest matchup of this four-game stretch.
The Celtics have reeled off six wins to start 2017, while only tasting defeat twice in the same stretch. This recent run of play has Boston closing in on Toronto for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, putting them in a solid position to improve upon their playoff position from last season.
Boston owns the No. 9 ranked scoring offense in the league, but it appears they’ll be without their second-leading scorer in Avery Bradley. Luckily for the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas has been on an incredible scoring streak as of late. The former Huskies guard is averaging 34.1 points per game in his last 10 outings, and he has a serious case for being one of the biggest All-Star snubs after the starting lineups were announced earlier this week.
Marcus Smart has replaced Bradley in the starting rotation for coach Brad Stevens. Struggling with consistency on offense, Smart makes the majority of his impact on the defensive side of the ball. He has recently added some post moves to his repertoire, making it harder for opposing teams to hide smaller defenders on him.
The Celtics bolstered their frontcourt by landing Al Horford over the summer, but his transition to his new surroundings is still a work in progress. The longtime Atlanta Hawks big man is shooting below 50 percent from the field for the first time since his rookie season, and he’s currently averaging a career low in rebounds per game.
Boston’s two starting forward spots are held down by Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder. Johnson has become a solid veteran presence in his time with Boston, while Crowder has blossomed into one of the better two-way wings in the entire league. Despite being known most for his perimeter defense, Crowder is shooting above 40 percent from the 3-point line this season.
The Celtics have been able to adjust as the season has progressed; unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the struggling Trail Blazers. Coach Terry Stotts has begun to tinker with his starting lineup in hopes of finding an answer, which translated to a solid Noah Vonleh performance - 10 points in 26 minutes - in the loss to the Sixers. Evan Turner also joined the starting rotation, but didn’t play particularly well on Friday evening.
He’ll be returning for the first time to the city that helped revamp his career, which eventually led to his massive payday in Portland. Turner’s familiarity with the Celtics could give the Blazers a small leg up in this one, but a return to the bench might be in order after underperforming in the starting lineup.
Portland does have a few advantages tonight, as Boston allows the third-most second-chance points in the league. Horford’s aforementioned rebounding troubles are problem that seems to be plaguing the entire Celtics roster. Even if the Blazers struggle to hit shots, they have a significant chance to make up for it on the offensive glass.
Being optimistic about the Blazers’ chances on the road should be met with skepticism, but crazier things routinely happen in the NBA. Small victories can be achieved in this contest, as Stotts’ lineup changes could catch lightning in a bottle once again. Regardless of the outcome, Portland’s players and coaches can take solace in knowing that after tonight, their next five games take place in the Moda Center.
Blazer’s Edge Kids Night 2017
Help us send 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring! Read about Blazer’s Edge Kids Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!