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Preview: Nuggets return home to take on the Celtics

Minnesota is on Denver’s heels for that 6th spot. Tonight is a crucial game

Celtics vs Nuggets Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald

The Denver Nuggets will face the Boston Celtics in an effort to avenge their loss in mid-February. That loss came right before the Nuggets winning streak, and it was a game they should have won. Turnovers killed them late, so look for ball security to be at a premium for Denver tonight. In that game, the Celtics had 13 steals. Marcus Smart had four of them as he is the defensive anchor for that unit. Offensively, Tatum and Brown are as deadly of a combo as it gets. They did not have an efficient shooting game last time they faced Denver, so look for them to be aggressive early and often.

This is a critical game for Denver because Minnesota keeps winning and the Nuggets are now just 0.5 games ahead of them. If they were to surpass Denver, that would put the Nuggets in the play-in tournament which is a spot they definitely want to avoid. With that being said, the Nuggets are just 1.5 games behind the Mavs for the 5th seed as they have now lost two in a row.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (42-29, 20-13 home) @ Boston Celtics (43-28, 19-16 away)

When: 6:00 PM MT

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: CelticsBlog

Expected Starting Lineups:

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

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Jamal Murray (out), Michael Porter Jr. (out), Zeke Nnaji (out), Vlatko Cancar (out), Aaron Nesmith (out)

Three Keys

Protect the ball like it’s your social security number

The turnovers are getting out of hand for Denver. Sometimes their offense can be hitting on all cylinders, but crucial turnovers here and there put the Nuggets in danger of losing the game. It was the case in Friday’s Cleveland game where the Nuggets had two turnovers in five straight scoreless possessions in overtime. Cleveland is a great defensive unit but Boston is even better. In the last matchup between the two, Denver turned it over 21 times, and those turnovers in the 4th seemed to be the deciding factor in the game.

Need a Barton and Gordon sighting

Barton and Gordon have produced well for stretches, but it seems like they rarely have good games on the same night. Gordon played well last night, but Barton did not shoot well including a bad shot late in the game which put Denver in a precarious spot. Barton’s key is getting to the hoop. When he gets to the cup early in games, it seems to set the tone for a good night. If he can do that and hit perimeter shots, it opens the paint for Gordon to dominate. When Gordon or Barton play well, the Nuggets are in a position to win, but when they both play well, Denver can beat any team on any given night.

Drill some triples

In Boston, the Nuggets shot 11-44 from three. That is too many threes for my liking, especially when they are not falling. The Celtics have great perimeter defenders on their side, so the Nuggets will have to do some damage in the paint to open those looks from three. If they can stay within the low or mid-’30s for three-point attempts while being efficient, they may have the Celtics playing from behind which is a position they are not as built for. They like to play with a lead and let their defense dominate, so if the Nuggets can start early by producing in the paint, it will open the three-point looks late in the game. At home, the Nuggets should be more confident in hitting those shots.