Celtics-Thunder preview: Rough road out West

Celtics-Thunder preview: Rough road out West
January 5, 2014, 12:30 pm
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(USA Today Sports Images)

As the Celtics head out West for a slate of games that has them looking like they'll be more road kill than road warriors, it'll be easy for the Green Team to adopt an us-against-the-world mentality.

Outside of their locker room, there will be few who give them any chance at competing with -- let alone beating -- some of the teams on the docket this week. They aren't just playing better teams, they're playing some of the NBA's elite who call the Western Conference home.

And while many fans are understandably worried about how the Celtics (13-20) will fare, players are kind of giddy about the five-games-in-seven-night stretch that begins tonight at Oklahoma City.

"I'm excited for this road trip; very challenging games coming up," said Boston's Jordan Crawford.

Boston's shooting of late has left a lot to be desired, but Crawford recognizes other areas of improved play that has given the Celtics a chance to win most games this season.

"Everybody is staying together, still doing a lot of positive things on defense," Crawford said. "It's a process. We expected to have ups and downs the whole season. Gotta keep fighting."

And try to avoid getting crushed by teams with monster-truck sized talent like the Thunder.

Here are some other keys in tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston has to withstand the early surge from the Thunder as they look to snap a two-game losing skid at home. If the Celtics are to pull off this upset, getting a first-quarter lead will be critical. In December, Boston was 6-4 in games in which they led after the first quarter. And of the four losses, two of them -- Detroit and Washington -- fall under the bad loss category when you consider the Celtics led by 19 and 16 points, respectively, after the first.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jeff Green vs Kevin Durant. Green has been in an overall funk lately, so maybe seeing a familiar face (Durant) and the familiar surroundings of Oklahoma City will be just what he needs to get back on track and start playing at a level that gives the Celtics a better chance at winning. Meanwhile, Durant has quietly gone about having another stellar season with 29.2 points, 4.8 assists and a career-high 8.3 rebounds per game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The bone bruise and strained ligaments in Jared Sullinger's left hand have literally reduced him to being a one-handed rebounder. Even with a good pair of mitts, he would be challenged by the Thunder's rebounders who are collectively averaging a league-best 47 boards per game.

STAT TO TRACK: Oklahoma City gets it done at both ends of the floor, which is why they are one of the league's best teams. They average 1.065 points per possession this season. And defensively, they have limited opponents to just 0.977 points per possession which is the second-best mark in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics' defense has limited teams to 1.017 points per possession which is the 10th-best mark in the league. However, their offense is generating just 0.989 points per possession which is among the bottom in the NBA, at No. 23.