The surprising Charlotte Hornets are set to take on the Boston Celtics Wednesday, January 19th on ESPN in the Boston Garden. Both of these teams would currently be slated to face one another in the NBA's play-in game if the season were to end right now. The Hornets are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference while the Celtics are sitting at 10th overall. Before the season, it was projected that these teams would be flip-flopped in the standings as the Celtics were seen as a lower-projected seed in the East and the Hornets were looked at as a fringe playoff team. Both of these teams have some of the NBA's best young stars on their rosters as well. In this potential play-in game preview, all of these young stars should have their full package of offensive abilities on display.
The Charlotte Hornets were an early surprise in the Eastern Conference to begin the year as they were one of the top teams in the conference in October. They began the season winning five of their first seven games before they dropped five games in a row. This is truly a team that has been hot and cold at different periods throughout the season. After that five-game-losing streak, they went on another winning run where they won eight of their next nine games. The Hornets are on another one of those hot streaks currently as they have won five of their last six games, and they will look for another win here against the Celtics. Where the Hornets excel is in games where they can use their speed and athleticism. Their athleticism matched them up well against the Milwaukee Bucks as they just beat the defending champions in back-to-back games earlier in January. This team is led by reigning rookie of the year LaMelo Ball, but the roster features other young budding stars such as Miles Bridges and Terry Rozier. The group is rounded out by former All-Star, Gordon Hayward.
The Boston Celtics come into this game with a nice little hot streak of their own. The Celtics have won five of their last six games, that includes a win over the Eastern-Conference-leading Chicago Bulls. These last six games have marked the best six-game run of the season for the Celtics. One of the differences, that this Boston team has improved on during this run, is on the defensive end. In four of the five wins they have held their opponent to 100 points or less. This team is led by their two young All-Stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They are averaging 25 and 24 points, respectively. A big boost for them recently has been the play of their big offseason acquisition in Dennis Schroeder. In January he already has four games with 20 points or more. The main criticism of this team is that Tatum and Brown take too many shots, and they don't spread the ball around in the offence. It helps to take the load off of both of them having another scorer emerge in Schroeder. The Celtics have seemed to play better team basketball, spreading the scoring around more in January. This could be just the recipe of what the Celtics need to make a run at the playoffs again this year.
Keys for this game for the Boston Celtics will be to slow the game down to make the Hornets play at their slower pace. They won't want to get into a fast-paced game running up and down the floor where the Hornets thrive. The Celtics have two of the best half-court players in the NBA in Tatum and Brown and they will want to keep the game in their comfort zone. Another key for the Celtics will be with their shot selection. A big criticism of the Celtics' stars is that they take a lot of bad shots. Against this Charlotte Hornets defence, they should be able to get good shots if they are patient in their offensive attack.
The Hornets will look to stop Tatum and Brown, which has proved to be an effective strategy against the Celtics this season. It is easier said than done, and the Hornets usually just try to outscore their opponent and not worry so much about defence. If the Hornets can turn this into a fast-paced game, they should have the advantage with all of their high-volume shooters and impressive athletes. This team is hard to stop when they are running and shooting threes at a high clip.
These two teams are pretty evenly matched, as the first time they played each other this year the Celtics won the game in overtime. A high-scoring game is expected in this matchup with a lot of the league's best scorers on the court in this one. Look for an exciting game between these two Eastern Conference teams.