BOSTON — Home has been anything but sweet for the Celtics this season. The Celtics (6-11) have lost five of their first seven home games, including the past four.
Coach Brad Stevens is as mystified by the slow start as anyone.
"It's certainly not the atmosphere," he said. "The atmosphere [at the TD Garden] has been great."
There's no getting around the Celtics have had some of their worst performances of the season at home.
But the quality of their opponents recently has been arguably the biggest factor in the game's outcome.
"The last three teams we've played in here are awfully good basketball teams," Stevens said.
The three teams that Stevens is referring to are Portland (13-3 with wins in nine of their past 10 games); Indiana (14-1) which has the best record in the NBA and the Memphis Grizzlies (8-7) who bring most of the core players back from a team that advanced to the Western Conference finals a year ago.
"At the end of the day we need to get better at home," Stevens said. "We need to get better on the road, we need to become a better basketball team."
On Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers (4-11) visit the Garden. Here are some keys to keep an eye on heading into the game:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Neither one of these teams play at a tremendously fast pace, with both hoping to establish some type of inside game whether it's guards beating players off the dribble, or basic passes into the low-post to big men.
This has been a major issue for the Cavaliers, who score a league-worst 33.2 points in the paint per game. Meanwhile, Boston's impressive 3-point defense is in part due to the team's struggles in limiting opponents from scoring around the basket.
Boston is giving up 44.2 points per game in the paint which ranks 24th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA.
Emerging victorious in the battle to score or limit scoring in the paint, will go far in determining the winner.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kyrie Irving: Bradley's game continues to grow in just about every phase of play, while Irving hasn't had the kind of start to the season many expected. He's averaging 21 points per game along with a career-high 6.1 assists per game. But he's also shooting career-lows from 3-point range (32.9 percent), as well as from the free-throw line (81.9 percent). And on top of that, he's turning the ball over a career-worst 3.4 times per game.
Still, he's one of the most dynamic players in the NBA and will once again be a handful for Bradley to deal with defensively.
PLAYER TO WATCH: It's hard to believe that just a couple years ago, Andrew Bynum was arguably the NBA's best center not named Dwight Howard. While he's still not fully healed from a series of knee-related injuries, Bynum is playing steady minutes and slowly but surely, showing small signs of regaining the once-dominant form that many remember.
STAT TO TRACK: Ball movement has been an up and down affair for the Celtics this season, with a slew of statistical data to make that point emphatically. Nowhere is it more apparent than the team's assists numbers (17.4 per game) which rank at the bottom of the league. Still, it's no secret better ball movement leads to more assists, and that has been a key to Boston in all its wins this season. Boston averages just 14.7 assists in games lost, while that number rises to 22.2 in the six games they have won.