Celtics-Pacers preview: Road struggles continuing?

Celtics-Pacers preview: Road struggles continuing?
March 11, 2014, 1:00 pm
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You have to figure that winning is going to be a little bit -- OK, a lot -- harder for the  Celtics now that they're on the road after five straight home games.

They certainly haven't done themselves any favors this season by playing some of their worst basketball after long home stands.

An 18-point loss to Minnesota on Nov. 16 came on the heels of a three straight home games. A 27-point beatdown by the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 22 came after having played the previous five at home.

The Celtics are hoping things will be different tonight when they once again face a talented but struggling Pacers team that has lost a season-worst four in a row.

For starters, Boston could do a better job from three-point land.

In those three road losses after three or more consecutive home games, the Celtics were a combined 14-for-45 on threes (31.1 percent). The rest of the season, Boston has shot 32.7 percent (395-for-1,207) on threes.

The Celtics could also benefit from better shot selection.

In those losses, mid-range jumpers accounted for 45.8 percent of their shots. The rest of the season, that number is just a shade below 30 percent.

Boston, like most teams, is at their best when they get to the rim. In the three losses, only 36.9 percent of their shots were in the paint compared to 46 percent for the rest of the season.

The Celtics must also do a better job defensively. In those three games, Boston gave up 101.7 points per game. The rest of the season, opponents have scored 99.1 points per game against the Celtics.

Limiting turnovers, rebounding, bench play . . . there's a slew of challenges awaiting the Celtics as they try to get a road win over a team with a winning record for the first time since defeating the Atlanta Hawks (8-7 at the time) on Nov. 23.

"Obviously playing against a great defense on Tuesday," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "Hopefully we can play well on both ends of the floor.”

Here are some other keys to tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Even though Indiana has shown signs of slippage recently, they are still one of the NBA's elite teams defensively. The Celtics have averaged 104.5 points in their last two games -- both wins. Indiana has only give up more than 104 points nine times this season. But here's the catch: They've done it in each of their last three games.

MATCHUP TO WATCH:  Jeff Green vs. Paul George
The All-Star break appears to be just what Green needed in order to get his game on track. Since then, he has averaged 19.8 points per game compared to 16.4 before the break. George remains on most team's short list for league MVP, although his chances have taken a bit of hit because of the Pacer's current struggles with losses in each of their last four games.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The growth of Kelly Olynyk before our eyes has simply been amazing. Not only has he become a much-improved and more aggressive scorer, but he's also showing signs -- small signs, but signs nonetheless -- that he is also improving as a defender.

STAT TO TRACK: Defending the three-point shot will be a huge deal for both teams. Both come in ranked tied for fifth in opponent three-point shooting. The Celtics have been especially dominant the last two games, limiting Brooklyn and Detroit to 8-for-45 on threes (17.8 percent).