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Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics Preview

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The Blazers reach the halfway point of their seven-game road trip when they visit the TD Garden in Boston.

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (37-23) at Boston Celtics (37-24)

Wednesday, February 27 - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Evan Turner (out)
Celtic injuries: Aron Baynes (out)
How to watch on TV: ESPN
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Celtics Blog

The Portland Trail Blazers look to continue their success in game four of their seven-game road trip in Boston. Portland has gone 3-0 so far on the trip with their 13-point win in Cleveland on Monday being the lowest margin of victory. The Blazers beat the Celtics 100-94 in Portland back in November.

Boston is playing at home for the first time since the All-Star break. They are coming off a 118-95 loss in Toronto Tuesday night. The loss concluded an 0-3 road trip that also included losses in Milwaukee and Chicago. At 37-24 the Celtics have not lived up to the high expectations for their season. The return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a roster that pushed the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals had Celtic fans expecting nothing less than an NBA Finals appearance. Instead, questions about their chemistry and inconsistent play has pushed them down to the fifth seed in the East.

What to watch for

  • Points in the paint. Since adding Enes Kanter, the Blazers have scored 58 points in the paint per game. Kanter and Jusuf Nurkic have combined to give the Blazers a tough interior presence, averaging 36.3 points and 17.7 rebounds in three games together. The Celtics are a top-5 team at limiting opponents’ scoring inside, but with backup center Aron Baynes out, Boston only has one player in their rotation over 6’9”: Al Horford (one of the better defensive big men out there). In November’s matchup of these teams Nurkic scored 18 and pulled down 17 rebounds (7 offensive). Portland will hope the combination of Nurkic and Kanter can continue to bully their way to easy points inside.
  • Defending the three. Boston is third in the NBA in three-pointers made per game with 13.1. They make a high percentage of 37.1—just ahead of Portland’s 36.3. They are led by Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris who are each shooting over 40 percent, but the Celtics have a balanced three-point attack. Six different players shoot better than 35 percent on at least three attempts per game. The Blazers will need to move quickly on defense and close out on Boston’s shooters.
  • Slowing down Kyrie Irving. Most of the attention toward Boston’s point guard lately has been focused on his comments about teammates and potential offseason plans. If you look past the potential distractions, Irving is having a great season. He’s scoring 23.8 points per game (just shy of his career high of 25.2 in the 2016-17 season) while shooting a career-best 49.6 percent from the field. He’s also contributing 6.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds (both career bests). Boston is a balanced team, but Kyrie Irving is still the driving force on offense.

What they’re saying

John Karalis of Mass Live looks at the positives of Boston’s season:

Lost in the madness of perplexing losses is that this Celtics team is still good. They’ve won 62 percent of their games and have the league’s third-best net rating. They are one of only four teams currently with a top-10 offensive and defensive rating (Milwaukee, Denver, and Toronto are the others).

They have done well, but they certainly can do better. Wins and losses are, in the end, the only statistics that matter and the Celtics haven’t done as well as they should. No one will argue with that.

Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog wonders if Boston can “flip the switch”:

The problem with teams that think that they can “flip the switch” is that very often they are just wrong in their assumption. Championships are won by teams that have a combination of the most talent, the most effort, and the most luck. Take any leg of that stool away and the whole thing topples over.

It is still unfathomable to me that last year’s Eastern Conference try-hard team added Kyrie Irving (as well as a limited Gordon Hayward) and now all of a sudden they only show up when they feel like it. I know that Irving was on some flip-switchy teams in the past, but I don’t think we can blame it all on him either.

Chad Finn of Boston.com says the Celtics need to get their act together:

I’m not giving up on this group, but I’m just about giving up on any clear solution regarding how to solve this. The loss in Chicago had many culprits, from steady Al Horford failing to block out on a couple of late rebounds to Hayward looking as unsure as he has in weeks to Tatum just floating aimlessly to Rozier jacking up 9 shots and making just 1 in 15 minutes of playing time. If he’s going to be in time-to-get-mine mode no matter what, it’s time for Brad Wanamaker to siphon some of his minutes, though that will hardly solve everything.

The loss was so aggravating, and yet so familiar, that it took away any satisfaction that came from watching Irving try to take over down the stretch. There was a gotta-carry-these-guys resignation in his excellence.