PREVIEW: Rockets at Celtics- Dec. 27

Dec 23, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts towards the official during the second half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Rockets at Celtics- Dec. 27

The Rockets will try to sweep a back-to-back for the first time this season and try for back-to-back wins on the road for the first time when they take on Jayson Tatum and the East leading Celtics on Tuesday night.

Eye on the Celtics

Record: 24-10 (1st in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 117.2 (1st)

Defensive rating (rank): 110.7 (7th)

Boston enters Tuesday’s game with the NBA’s best record following an impressive Christmas Day win over Milwaukee. Led by MVP candidate Jayson Tatum’s 31 points and Jaylen Brown’s 27, the Celtics sport the NBA’s best offense. Boston is second in the league in 3-point makes per game and sixth in 3-point percentage. They are also sixth in turnover rate. Key to the Celtics’ success this season has been health. Only Sam Hauser and Derrick White have appeared in all 34 games, but Brown and Tatum have missed just two games, Marcus Smart has missed four, and Malcolm Brogdon has missed five. Robert Williams is four games into his comeback from preseason knee surgery, and he’s expected to play against the Rockets.

Matchup to watch: Kevin Porter Jr. vs Marcus Smart

Porter finished with 36 points and nine assists against the Bulls on Monday, but he’ll take a big step up in competition when he faces off against the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and a very good Celtics defense. The Rockets guard was in complete control on Monday and closed out the win in Chicago with 15 points in the fourth quarter, but Smart will challenge Porter in ways the Bulls couldn’t. He’s bigger than what Porter faced on Monday, he’s a smarter defender, and he’ll look to find ways to get under Porter’s skin.

What I’m watching for

The Rockets have played well against the NBA’s best teams this season and own wins over the Bucks, Sixers, and Suns, but on Tuesday they’ll play a Celtics team that will have a rest advantage and will be at full strength, while the Rockets are likely to be shorthanded without Eric Gordon, who does not play both games of back-to-backs. Can they bring the same energy and focus to this game as they’ve had in the others while being at a disadvantage? Also, how do they defend against the best offense in the NBA, and how much time does Jabari Smith Jr. get on Tatum?

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