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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Boston Celtics Preview

The Blazers look to start a new winning streak against the ailing Celtics.

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (44-27) vs. Boston Celtics (48-23)

Friday, March 23rd - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (questionable), Evan Turner (probable)
Celtics injuries: Marcus Smart (out), Kyrie Irving (out), Daniel Theis (out), Jaylen Brown (out), Gordon Hayward (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTVPass
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: CelticsBlog

The Celtics are a hospital ward. Once again, it looks like the Blazers might have gotten a break. It won’t be easy though, the Celtics are deep and have demonstrated that even without key players they won’t lie down for anyone. Most recently, Boston had a miracle comeback against Oklahoma City Thunder, winning 100-99 on Tuesday thanks to missed Thunder free throws and a clutch shot from Marcus Morris.

Portland’s 13-game winning streak was snapped when they lost to the Houston Rockets 115-111 on Tuesday. The Blazers will be motivated to make sure the teams in their rearview mirror in the standings stay there. With more tough games to come, it is important for the Blazers to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.

What to watch for

Can the Blazers take advantage of Boston injuries? On paper things seem pretty hopeful for the Blazers. No Kyrie Irving, no Marcus Smart and no Gordon Hayward sounds great. All Portland needs to do though is watch film of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder to see that the Celtics are not content to slouch off some games until they get healthier. Portland will need to be ready for anything as it is hard to predict who is going to be the biggest threat. Al Horford? Greg Monroe? Marcus Morris? Rookie Jayson Tatum? It could be anyone, but don’t be surprised if Tatum is high scorer for the Celtics.

Who wins the free throw battle? One of the problems when you have make-shift lineups is that players don’t have a lot of reps with each other. When you don’t know what your teammate is going to do, you might be a step late on that switch or you might be out of position. That can mean fouls. Oklahoma City for example took 16 more free throws than Boston. In a close game, that should have been the difference, and if not for missed free throws in the clutch from the Thunder it would have been. Expect the Blazers to aggressively probe the Celtics defense and look for fouls. If the Blazers can take 10 more free throws than Boston it is hard to see them losing.

The Blazers need a bounce back game from the backcourt. The good news in the defeat to Houston was Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless were lights out from beyond the arc. The bad news ... make that the horrific news ... was that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot a combined 0-12 from 3 and less than 30 percent from the field. That can’t happen. Fortunately, it almost certainly won’t. Does anyone want to bet against Lillard and McCollum shooting better than 38 percent combined from deep against Boston?

What they’re saying

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reports on the injury situation for the Celtics:

There have been times over the course of Ainge’s front office tenure here when players he wanted to see more of — Avery Bradley comes to mind — got their chance only because of injury to others. As the Celts head west to take on Portland, Sacramento, Phoenix and Utah, people such as Semi Ojeleye and Abdel Nader are seeing more time. And others have increased stature in the game plan.

“There’s opportunities for other players now to prove that they can contribute,” Ainge said. “And there are big opportunities for Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier, too. Their minutes will increase and their roles will increase, but there will also be opportunities for Abdel Nader and Guerschon (Yabusele) and Greg Monroe and all the rest of the guys on the bench, Shane Larkin and so forth.

Dan Favale of Bleacher Report puts Boston’s dramatic win against the Thunder in perspective:

OKC came into Boston winners of six straight, fresh off a Sunday upset of the Raptors in Toronto. The Celtics derailed that tear.

Sure, they needed a little luck on their side. But they kept things close through and through. The Thunder never led by more than 10 points, and the Celtics played them to a stalemate in the paint and on the break despite hosting an unsolicited turnover fest.

Reading too much into this lone outcome would be a mistake. One game is not the rest of the regular season. It sure as heck isn’t the playoffs. But this effort was an extension of the Celtics’ entire year—a microcosm of their depth in action.

Alex Kungu of Celtics Blog writes about his pick for Boston’s most consistent player. If you haven’t been following the Celtics closely the name will probably surprise you:

Since the All Star break, (Jayson) Tatum has averaged 13.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg on 46.1 FG% , 42.4 3P%, and he’s 3rd on the team in attempts that are within in 5 ft where he shoots 61%. The big jump? Well, there isn’t one. Tatum has gotten more comfortable in scoring in non-spot up situations and has gotten back to limiting his mid-range attempts and opting for more drives to the hoop. But the beauty in Tatum’s season hasn’t been the explosive leaps or the hot stretches, but rather the consistent streak of solid production on both ends every night. It’s not always flashy, but its always effective, and at 20-years-old, you really couldn’t ask for more.