Celtics-Nuggets preview: One streak has to end

994095.jpg

Celtics-Nuggets preview: One streak has to end

BOSTON It's only fitting that the Celtics would be gunning for their longest winning streak of the season against the hottest team in the NBA right now.

That would be the Denver Nuggets, who come into tonight's game riding a season-best nine-game winning streak that includes a 111-103 win at Cleveland on Saturday.

But during Denver's run of dominance, there has been one thing missing: games in consecutive days.

Tonight's matchup with the C's will be the Nuggets' first set of back-to-back games during the current streak, while the Celtics had a back-to-back set of games in defeating the Raptors and Lakers, respectively.

Despite the recent run of success, Boston players consistently say they haven't focused much on their streak, which stands at six.

"We really do have to take it one game at a time around here," C's Courtney Lee told CSNNE.com. "We want to keep this thing going as long as we can, but we can't do that if we're thinking too far ahead."

Keeping their focus on the Nuggets will be one of the keys for Boston tonight. Here are some other factors to watch.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Nuggets are all about getting buckets, all the time. For the season, they have averaged 104.8 points per game which ranks third in the NBA. During their nine-game winning streak, they lead the league in scoring with 114.6 points per game. Meanwhile, the C's counter with a scoring defense (93.8) that ranks 6th overall this season, and is 4th in the league (89.7) during the Celtic's six-game winning streak.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Kenneth Faried. Pierce has been playing some of his best basketball of the season lately, but the 6-foot-8 Faried presents a different, and in many ways, tougher challenge for the captain. Faried is a high-energy, always-on-the-move player with great rebounding instincts evident by his 9.7 rebounds per game this season. Keeping him off the boards should be an even bigger priority for Pierce than doing what he does best, which is score.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Boston's second unit has been in attack mode of late, but Denver's JaVale McGee might make the C's think otherwise. He's averaging 10.1 points off the Nuggets bench, in addition to 2.02 blocked shots per game which doesn't factor in the shots he alters in the paint. His four blocked shots at Cleveland on Saturday was the seventh time this season he has had at least four in a game. That's tops among all NBA reserves this season.

STAT TO TRACK: Limiting Denver's offensive rebounds will be an across-the-board challenge for Boston. The Nuggets average an NBA-best 13.6 offensive rebounds per game. Boston has been among the better defensive rebounding teams of late, but during their six-game winning streak they are still giving up 13.2 offensive rebounds per game.

Don't expect to see Celtics shy away from 3-pointers

Don't expect to see Celtics shy away from 3-pointers

BOSTON – There were a bunch of numbers from Boston’s 121-114 loss to Detroit on Wednesday that stood out. 

Among the eye-grabbing stats was the fact that the Celtics had taken 42 3s (with 15 makes), an unusually high number of attempts that we may see matched or even surpassed tonight against the Sacramento Kings. 

Don’t count head coach Brad Stevens among those surprised to see the Celtics attempt a lot of three-pointers. 

Last season the Celtics took 26.1 three-pointers per game which ranked 11th in the NBA. 

This season they’re up to 31.2 three-pointers attempted and 11.3 made which both rank fifth in the NBA. 

You can count Kelly Olynyk among the Celtics pleased with the team's increased emphasis on shooting 3s. 

The 7-foot led the NBA in shooting percentage (.405) on 3s taken last season.

"We play a lot of spread offense with four shooters, four perimeter guys," Olynyk, who is shooting 38.1 percent on 3s this season, told CSNNE.com. "We're trying to make teams shrink their defense and spray out and hopefully make shots. You're making extra passes, giving up good ones for great ones. And we have some pretty good shooters on our team. That's the way we're trying to play. It's just a matter of us making shots."

And the Celtics face a Kings team ranks among the NBA’s worst at limiting 3-point attempts with Sacramento opponents averaging 28.4 three-pointers taken per game which ranks 25th in the league. 

One of Stevens’ main points about three-pointers is while it’s an important shot for them, they need to be the right shot, the right basketball play at the right time. 

And when asked about the 42 attempts against the Pistons, he was quick to acknowledge those were for the most part the right shots to be taken. 

“They are,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day we want lay-ups. And if we don’t get layups, we want the floor to be shrunk. If the defense shrinks in, you’re able to touch the paint and kick out. Two of our last three games, maybe three of the last four, two-thirds of our possessions we touched the paint or shrunk the defense with a roll. That’s our objective. We’re not a team that gets to the foul line a lot. We’re not a team that rebounds at a high rate. And we haven’t scored in transition. To be able to be sitting where we are offensively, a big reason is because we space the floor.”

Barnes, Cousins trying to keep 'emotions and energy focused'

Barnes, Cousins trying to keep 'emotions and energy focused'

BOSTON – No one is proclaiming DeMarcus Cousins’ demeanor is all that radically different than past seasons. 

But the volatile nature that has often overshadowed his on-the-court-brilliance, doesn’t seem to shine as brightly as it used to. 

Maybe he’s growing up. 

Maybe he’s finally comfortable with his team. 

And then there’s the almighty dollar which was the incentive for one of his teammates, Matt Barnes, to clean up his act as far as racking up technical fouls and being fined by the league. 

I asked Barnes whether there was a light bulb moment or a teammate or player that helped him get on track and not draw so much attention from officials and the league office. 

“It was all the money I was being fined,” he said. “I think I lost like $600,000 over my career for fines. It was time to kind of wake and say ‘hey, they don’t like you so you have to stick to the book.’”

With Barnes returning to Sacramento (he played for the Kings during the 2004-2005 season), he finds an intense, kindred spirit of sorts in Cousins who like Barnes has had his share of technical and fines handed down by the league office. 

This season, Cousins is the NBA’s leader in technical fouls with six. 

“I’ve always had a good head on my shoulders,” Barnes said. “I’m just a passionate player. I play with my emotion on my sleeve. I think DeMarcus does the same thing. What I’m trying to show him now, we have to keep our emotions and energy focused towards the right things. That could be detrimental to the team if it gets out of hand.”

First-year coach Dave Joerger has been pleased to see how different Cousins is to be around on a daily basis as opposed to how he’s perceived. 

“He gets credit for his talent. He gets credit that he’s improved in the league,” Joerger said. “I think he doesn’t get enough credit for the way that his approach to the game and the way that he’s carrying himself and conducting himself has greatly improved. He’s a good person. Now being with him, I see improvement over the last three years, the way that he goes about his business. I think that’s very positive.”