The aging, wounded Boston Celtics make their lone annual appearance at Pepsi Center tonight and will be playing the second of a back-to-back and their fifth game in seven days. But that doesn't mean the Nuggets can beat them.
Denver: 24-20 (13-11 at home)
Streak: Lost 1
Boston: 23-20 (7-12 on the road)
Streak: Lost 1
Denver: None - we still can't believe it!
Oklahoma City: Paul Pierce (mild ankle sprain) is day-to-day, Jermaine O'Neal (sprained wrist) is day-to-day, Chris Wilcox (aorta condition) is out.
Season Series: 0-0
There was a time when an aging team - nay, any team - traveling from the West Coast to Denver for the second of a back-to-back was a sure victory for our Nuggets. Not anymore.
Sitting on a pathetic 13-11 home record, and after witnessing listless home performances against the Kings, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Hawks and Thunder, I have no confidence whatsoever in the Nuggets ability to win a home game. And don't let the Nuggets 3-3 record during this recent home stand fool you. The Nuggets are lucky to be 3-3, having been bailed out by a bad foul against the Kings last Sunday and by Kirk Hinrich's inability to make a free throw last Tuesday. They could easily be 1-5 on this home stand.
With or without newcomer JaVale McGee (who as of this writing has not been cleared to play tonight as all the players involved in Thursday's trade must pass physicals), the Nuggets should be able to ruin the Celtics' St. Patrick's Day tonight (the Celtics are 21-10 all time on the Irish holiday, by the way) and somewhat salvage this home stand. After all, the Celtics were trounced by 25 points in Sacramento last nigh, eeked out a Wednesday victory at Golden State and are showing the signs of a team that's ready to get back to Boston. But again, that whole "Nuggets winning at home" thing isn't a certainty as it once was.
The Nuggets home struggles are most perplexing because the team is relatively healthy. Danilo Gallinari is back and playing better. Timofey Mozgov looked good physically on Thursday. As did Kosta Koufos. Even Chris Andersen seems to have rediscovered his once lost energy. And yet the Nuggets seem to slog through game after game rather than dictate the energy of the game to their favor. Why?
If for no other reason than needing a change for the sake of change, I for one am really hoping McGee can play tonight. You know the young kid will want to impress his new home fans and could be just the energy boost the Nuggets need. Plus, the Nuggets could probably use McGee's defense against the Celtics' aging superstar Kevin Garnett, who has been playing great since moving to center recently.
Basically, the Celtics seem to go as Garnett goes. Even though the Celtics have had a tough week on the road (2-2 on their West Coast swing thus far), they've won 8 of their last 11 games. And in those eight victories - against the Cavaliers, Bucks, Nets, Knicks, Rockets, Clippers and Warriors - KG played great and in many instances, posted 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds ... reminiscent of his days on the Timberwolves. With last night's loss at Sacramento out of hand midway through the third quarter, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers rested Garnett. So look for Garnett to have a decent game against the Nuggets tonight, especially without Nene Hilario to defend the power forward position and possibly not having McGee available at all.
SCOUTING THE CELTICS
Celtics Non-Stiffs ...
-Kevin Garnett: Fans may see a Garnett who is a shell of his former self, but I see a supremely conditioned athlete who still has a lot of game left in his 35 year old body.
-Paul Pierce: Even though he turned his ankle last night, Pierce still had 19 points and has been playing well lately. It sure would be nice to have Wilson Chandler on the roster to defend Pierce tonight!
-Rajon Rondo: This guy had 18 points, 17 rebounds and 20 assists against the Knicks two weeks ago. The only player to do something on that level prior was Magic Johnson in 1989.
Celtics Stiffs ...
-Jermaine O'Neal: No matter what O'Neal is being paid (this season it's an atrocious $6.2 million) it's too much. The guy never plays and when he does, he's ineffective.
-Danny Ainge: The Celtics' GM dangled Rondo out for trade and then made no moves whatsoever before Thursday's deadline, meaning that Garnett and Ray Allen's possible last season in Boston (both are unrestricted free agents to be) could end in a whimper.
Including tonight's game, the Nuggets have three games remaining on a once promising nine-game home stand. If they can take down the aging Celtics tonight, the defending champion Mavericks on Monday and the lowly Pistons on Wednesday, their home stand can be salvaged. But if the home losses continue to pile up, the Nuggets may only make the playoffs because Ricky Rubio is hurt and the Trail Blazers just gave up on their season at the trade deadline.
This is hardly the way we expected the Nuggets to perform coming out of the All-Star break.