Celtics-Rockets preview: Stop the streak?

Celtics-Rockets preview: Stop the streak?
January 13, 2014, 12:45 pm
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BOSTON — Having lost eight in a row, there's no way to predict how the Celtics will handle themselves tonight against the Rockets. Will they be invigorated by playing in familiar surroundings, or will they once again fall prey to a second-half slump?

"I hope it makes everybody hungry because this is kind of embarrassing," Celtics guard Avery Bradley told reporters following Saturday's loss at Portland. "You don't ever want to lose (eight) games in a row. Like I said, we're sticking together and I know everybody wants to improve and get better and get a win against Houston."

That will be easier said than done against a Rockets team that has won three of their last four games. They feature a lethal scorer in James Harden, currently the league's fifth best scorer at 24.9 points per game.

Houston has been among the league's leaders in field goal percentage as well as threes made (8.9) and threes attempted (26.1) per game. And when they aren't shooting the heck out of the ball or knocking down treys, they get to the free-throw line for an NBA-leading 31.6 free throw attempts per game.

Houston's defense gives up a bunch of points, but is also limiting teams to just 43.5 percent shooting which ranks fifth in the NBA.

Boston will surely have its hands full as they return home with the goal of replacing the bitter taste of defeat with a sweet win.

Here are some other keys in tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Houston will shoot a bunch of threes, but their bread-and-butter lies in their ability to score around the basket. They shoot 47.3 percent from the field, the third-highest mark in the NBA. In addition to getting the ball down low to Dwight Howard, many of those points around the basket come via drives into the lane which helps explain why the Rockets average 50.1 points in the paint which is good for No. 3 in the league.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. James Harden. During Boston's eight game losing skid, Bradley has averaged a team-best 15.8 points per game. But it is his defense that has to take front and center tonight against Harden, one of the NBA's best scorers. Harden is one of those triple-threat scorers who can cash in from three-point land, around the basket and at the free throw line.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Houston's Terrence Jones had a breakout performance for the Rockets in their win over the Celtics in November, scoring a career-high 24 points. He comes into tonight's game coming off another career milestone. In Houston's 114-107 win at Washington on Saturday, Jones had a career-high 17 rebounds to go with 19 points and three blocked shots.

STAT TO TRACK: The Rocket's uptempo brand of basketball not only lends itself to lots of points scored, but also a ton of shot attempts for their opponents. A steady night shooting the ball should pay huge dividends for the Celtics as they face a Rockets club that gives up 87.7 shot attempts per game, the second-highest amount in the league.