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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Boston Celtics Preview

The Blazers travel to Boston to take on the Celtics.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (18-26) vs Boston Celtics (23-23)

The Portland Trail Blazers have a bit of a bad taste in their mouth from the ending of their last game. After playing the Miami Heat tough for three quarters, the Blazers could only manage 12 points in the fourth quarter, losing by a score of 104-92. A win against Boston would erase any bad memories and also ensure at least an even road trip, with a chance to go 4-2 with a win in Toronto before going home.

The Boston Celtics find themselves in ninth place in the East with a .500 record, somewhat below most people’s predictions and way below most fans’ expectations. They certainly have talent, but things haven’t quite clicked yet under first year coach Ime Udoka. With the trade deadline approaching, this might be a team to keep an eye on. Improvement down the stretch is a definite possibility, whether from deadline deals or some Olshey-esque internal growth. On Wednesday, the Celtics lost to the Charlotte Hornets by a score of 111-102.

Friday, January 21- 4:30 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports NW, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Larry Nance Jr. (out), Cody Zeller (out), Norman Powell (out)
Celtics injuries: P. J. Dozier (out), Bol Bol (out), Aaron Nesmith (questionable), Marcus Smart (questionable), Robert Williams III (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Celtics Blog

UPDATE:

Nassir Little and Dennis smith Jr. will play.

What To Watch For

  • Deadly from the free throw line. Boston is a pretty mediocre team right now and the stats bear that out. One area where they stand out is free throws. The Celtics are second in the NBA in percentage at 81.8%. One of their problems though is that they don’t get to the line enough. For example, Boston was in the bonus for the last nine minutes of the game against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday and shot exactly zero free throws. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Celtics lost that game.
  • The Blazers Big Three? With Damian Lillard out of the picture for a while and some other scorers unavailable, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkić and Anfernee Simons have been carrying the statistical load. Over the last two games CJ is averaging 20 points per game, Simons 20 points and seven assists and Nurkić 19.5 points and 18 rebounds. It’s hard to imagine a Blazers win in Boston without very good nights from these three.
  • Hustle. One of the most pleasing things about watching the Blazers over the last two weeks or so is seeing guys dive for loose balls, get out on a fast break after a steal, and put some effort into defending. It’s not happening all the time with every player, nor is the hustle always paying dividends. Still, seeing energy where previously there had been none is a welcome change, as modest as it might be. This is a game where hustle could make a huge difference. Boston can be lethargic at times, and a scrappy performance from Portland could be a game changer.

What Others Are Saying

Why did Boston trade for Bol Bol and P. J. Dozier, two guys who won’t see the court for months at least? The answer has more to do with positioning for the future according to Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston.

Boston moves off Hernangomez’s $6.9 million salary without having to give up an asset. The Celtics will save a little less than $3 million in the swap, moving Boston a little closer to avoiding the luxury tax this season.

Dodging the tax in a year where Boston isn’t a surefire contender will help ease future repeater penalties, particularly if the Celtics splurge to add talent this summer. All nontaxpaying teams are in line to collect a healthy refund from the NBA this year thanks to big spenders like the Brooklyn Nets.

Decision making needs to get better if the Celtics want to have consistent success in Ime Udoka’s system according to Adam TaylorNBA of Celtics Blog.

That’s the next development for this Celtics team, which despite their current form, are improving in their execution of Udoka’s system. For the most part, they’re quick with their passes and less hesitant with their shot selection. Now, they need to understand when to shoot, and when to reset, because that’s a problem that has plagued them all season.

A future title in Boston lead by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown? The guys on NBA Countdown discuss.