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Preview: Nuggets take on the defending Eastern Conference champions in Boston

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (8-3) take on the Boston Celtics (8-3) tonight in Boston. After previously winning the Eastern Conference and making the Finals last season, Boston hopes to keep the strong start of their season going. Despite having a new head coach in Joe Mazzulla this offseason, the Celtics have maintained their offensive production. Denver enters tonight with the highest 3-point % and FG % in the league but, Boston takes the most three-pointers while also making the most per game.

Both teams started the season 8-3, and both have shown to be legitimate contending teams this year. Tonight’s game could very well be a preview of this years NBA Finals. Jayson Tatum is averaging 31 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists per game, and could very well bring home his first MVP award this year. The first of 2 meetings between these teams takes place in Boston.

The Essentials:

Who: Denver Nuggets (8-3, 4-3 away) @ the Boston Celtics (8-3, 4-1 home)

When: 5:00 p.m. MST

Where: TD Garden, Boston MA

How to watch/listen: AltitudeTV, NBA TV, NBALeague Pass for those who have it available, 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival Blog: CelticsBlog

Expected Starting Lineups:

BOS: PG Marcus Smart, SG Jaylen Brown, SF Jayson Tatum, PF Grant Williams, C Al Horford

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokić

Injuries:

Collin Gillespie (out), Ish Smith (out), Malcolm Brogdon (out), Robert Williams (out), Danilo Gallinari (out)

Three Things to Watch:

The Celtics Defense

Boston was one of, if not the best, defensive teams last year, this year they are 23rd in Drtg rating. Playing without Robert Williams is a huge blow to this team, but a drop from tied for first place last year to 23rd this year is significant to say the least. The Celtics like to play a swarming defense and are really active on that end, with Nikola Jokić on the other team things could be different. Teams do not like to double Jokić, for good reason, and the Celtics only have one true center available for tonight, Al Horford. If Jokić can force the Celtics to play Luke Kornet for any substantial run, I think Denver wins.

How Effective is KCP’s defense versus the elite

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was brought in this offseason to be a prototypical 2 guard. He has shown to excel at that role this season, shooting 54% from three while averaging 1.6 steals per game. On the other side, Jaylen Brown has been playing some of the best basketball of his career so far. He has scored 30 or more points in 4 of the last 7 games he has played in, knocking down 6 threes in one appearance. If KCP can hold Brown to under his averages, I will be much more confident in KCP. He has already proven he is fantastic in Denver, just needs to do what he has been doing versus all-stars and he can be perfect in Denver.

Can Denver maintain this play

If the Nuggets win tonight they will be on a 5-0 win streak. After getting a tough comeback win in Indiana on Wednesday, the Nuggets continue on game 3 of their 4-game Eastern Conference road trip. The Nuggets starters all played for 30+ minutes except for Jokić, who only played for 21. Jamal Murray likely won’t play as much as he did on Wednesday but Jokić should be good to play as much as he is needed. Denver has started out the year playing phenomenally, the test of all contenders is if they can maintain that same level of play all season long. Denver beating the reigning Eastern Conference champions while on the road would absolutely help their contending case.