PREVIEW: Celtics at Rockets- March 13

Dec 27, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts during the second half against the Houston Rockets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Celtics at Rockets- March 13

The Rockets will play the second game of a six-game homestand when they host the Boston Celtics on Monday night. The Rockets have lost three in a row after Saturday’s fourth-quarter collapse against the Chicago Bulls and 16-of-18, with both wins coming against the Spurs. The last time the Rockets beat a team other than the Spurs was when they beat Oklahoma City on Feb. 1.

Eye on the Celtics

Record: 47-21 (2nd in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 116.7 (4th)

Defensive rating (rank): 111.1 (4th)

The Celtics enter Monday’s game coming off back-to-back wins and sit 1.5 games back of Milwaukee for the NBA’s best record. They are one of two teams that boast a top 10 offense and defense, and the Celtics are the only team in the top five of both categories. Boston doesn’t get to the free throw line, but only the Warriors attempts more 3s each game, and only five teams shoot the ball better from deep. In Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have two of the NBA’s top 12 scorers and both shoot better than 46% from the field.

Matchup to watch: Jabari Smith Jr. vs. Jayson Tatum

Tatum won’t win MVP this season, but he’s seemingly a lock to finish in the top five, and he torched the Rockets for 38 points on 12-of-25 shooting back in December, though Smith gave him all sorts of problems. Tatum scored nine points when Smith was the closest defender, but he shot just 3-of-12, and as a team, the Celtics scored just 28 points in the 35 possessions when Tatum was guarded by the Rockets rookie, who was drafted third overall five years after the Celtics star. Smith has scored in double-figures for five straight games for the first time since November, and he continues to play with more confidence at both ends of the floor.

What I’m watching for

The Rockets have been giant killers of sorts this season, especially at home. The Celtics are second in the East at the moment, and the Rockets have wins over the team directly above them, Milwaukee, and below them, Philadelphia. Young teams get up for the games against the league’s best, and Monday’s matchup with Boston counts as that. Of the 15 games remaining on the schedule, the Rockets still play the Lakers and Grizzlies twice, along with the Warriors and Nuggets, so those are opportunities to show what they can do against the league’s best or more glamorous teams, which could provide a little insight to how close this group is to competing for a playoff spot in the future.

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