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Preview: Nuggets head to Boston to take on the Celtics

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On the road, back to back, the Nuggets have their work cut out for them against the #1 team in the East.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets have limped along without their two best players on an extended road trip, but they’ve managed to secure two wins so far going 3-2 with one more game to go before they head home. Winning on the road isn’t easy, particularly when faced with grueling schedules and injuries that have left gaping holes in the roster.

As if things couldn’t get tougher, the Nuggets head to Boston tonight to face the white-hot Celtics who lead the Eastern Conference standings comfortably ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by several games. Tonight’s game will mark the 6th and and final game of the Nuggets’ latest stint on the road.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (15-12) at Boston Celtics (23-5)

When: 5:30 PM MST

Where: TD Garden

Hot to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM 950

Rival Blog: Celtics Blog

Position Nuggets Celtics Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Kyrie Irving Celtics
SG Gary Harris Jaylen Brown Nuggets
SF Will Barton Jayson Tatum Nuggets
PF Wilson Chandler Al Horford Celtics
C Kenneth Faried Aron Baynes Nuggets
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee, Juancho Hernangomez Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis Celtics

Injured players: Will Barton - probable (back), Nikola Jokic - questionable (ankle), Paul Millsap - out (wrist), Kyrie Irving - questionable (quad), Gordon Hayward - out (ankle), Marcus Morris - out (knee), Al Horford - out (knee).

Things to watch for:

Will Irving play?

The Celtics have managed just fine without Hayward this season, but the same can’t be said for how they fare without Irving. Irving did not play against the Chicago Bulls on Monday resulting in the Celtics’ blowout loss 108-85. Irving is reportedly suffering from a left quad contusion so while the injury is minor, the Celtics may play it safe with their star guard to preserve his health over the course of the season. In the event of an Irving absence, the Celtics will likely start Marcus Smart who will prove far easier to manage. Without Irving, the Nuggets may have a shot at going 3-3 on this road trip.

Will the Nuggets’ defense play?

Without the leadership of Paul Millsap, the Nuggets have been woefully lost on defense making it even harder for them to win on the road. As we saw in the Nuggets’ loss to Indiana, they had a great start in the first half followed by the all-too familiar flat 3rd quarter, a hole to dig out of in the 4th, and a tank in overtime. The Celtics’ lineup is somewhat smaller so Chandler and Faried may be able to hold their own, but they’ll have to be intent on playing defense for all 4 quarters if they want a chance to win.

How will the Nuggets’ guards respond to tough defense?

Jaylen Brown is in his second season with the Celtics, and although his 14.6 points per game is nothing to sneeze at, the real value he brings is defense. Brown is known for putting on serious defensive heat, and the Nuggets haven’t always responded well in that environment. It’s true that the Nuggets can’t really ask too much more from their guards who are performing fairly well under the injury circumstances, but it will be interesting to see how they perform under more strenuous defensive pressure. One thing is for certain: if Harris and Barton combine for anywhere near 19 assists again the Nuggets will be in fine shape.