Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets: Lineups, preview & prediction 3/3/18

Houston have now won 14 games in a row, while the Celtics are on a four-game winning streak of their own. Who will have their streak snapped in this one?

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 (Photo Credit: Keith Allison)

The unstoppable Rockets have now won 14 games in a row. Their latest victim was the Clippers, who they demolished 105-92 on the back of a 34-12 first quarter.

The win moved Houston’s record to 48-13, still the best record in the NBA, though they are now tied with the Warriors. With a win against Boston on Saturday, the Rockets can once again move into outright first place in the Western Conference Standings.

The Celtics won’t make it easy though as they appear to have returned to some good form. They put in one of their best offensive performances of the season on Wednesday, shooting 62.1% from the floor on the way to a 134-106 victory against Charlotte.

Boston are also fighting for a number one seed, albeit in the much weaker Eastern Conference. Their record of 44-19 has them sitting in second place, just half a game behind the Raptors.

Three keys to the game

Is Boston’s newfound potency on offense sustainable? – The Celtics have excelled at the defensive end of the floor this season, but their recent resurgence has been largely on the back of some terrific offense. Over the past five games, they score 118.6 points per 100 possessions, the most in the league. This is 13 points higher than Boston’s offensive rating over the course of the season.

Houston’s form – Arguably, the Rockets’ 14 game winning streak can no longer be put down to good form – it is who they are. They have been incredible across this stretch at both ends of the floor. Houston’s offensive rating of 116.7 is the best in the league over this period of games, while their defensive rating of 102.0 is worse than only Utah’s. This dominance at both ends makes them a near impossible matchup up, and Boston will need to play out of their skins to have a chance.

3-point shootout – Both these teams take a high volume of 3-point attempts and connect fairly regularly on them. Houston takes by far the most in the league at 42.5 per game, and their strike rate of 36.4% places them 12th. Boston takes significantly fewer attempts at 31.5 per game, though this is still the sixth most in the league. The Celtics connect more regularly than the Rockets, with their 37.3% better than all but three teams in the NBA.

Matchup to watch

Kyrie Irving vs Chris Paul – Two of the best point guards, and players, in the NBA, will engage in what will be an enthralling battle in this game. Paul, a nine-time All-Star, is still performing at a high level at age 32, putting up 18.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game in his debut season with the Rockets. For the first time since he entered the league, he is the second best player in his sides backcourt, but he is handling this with aplomb and has been a major reason for Houston’s dominance this season.

Irving, too, is thriving in a new environment, having led his Celtics to a virtually guaranteed top two finish in the east. He is averaging 24.9 points on 49.2% shooting, 5.1 assists, and 1.1 steals, though his play has been better than his stats suggest.

Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup

PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C – Clint Capela 

Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup

PG – Kyrie Irving | SG – Jaylen Brown | SF – Jayson Tatum | PF – Al Horford | C – Aron Baynes

Fantasy tip

Harden was rendered ineffective when these sides met earlier in the season. He scored 34 points and dished out ten assists, but he was not good in a game which saw Boston come back from 26 points down to win 99-98. Harden shot a woeful 7-for-27 from the floor, and his ten assists were accompanied by eight turnovers. Marcus Smart started in this game and harassed Harden to the point where it had an influence on the play of the MVP favorite.

Betting tip

The over/under points total has been set at 216.5 points and expect this game to fly past that total. It will be played at a playoff intensity, which often keeps scores lower, but Boston have been an offensive-minded team of late, and the Rockets are better at scoring than everyone in the league excluding the Warriors. The over is a great bet here.

Prediction

This will be an entertaining game and will go well past the 99-98 total we saw when the sides last met. It may be close once again, but the Rockets will be too good at home and will escape from the clutches of the Celtics in the final half of the last quarter.

Harden will be much better than he was when the sides last met though expect Stevens to once again play Smart for extended periods to throw the Rockets guard off his game. 

The game will be in the balance heading into the final quarter, but Houston will accelerate away to make it 15 games in a row with a 116-108 victory.

TV info

The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC. Tip-off is at 8:30pm ET.

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