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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans face stiffest of tests against Boston Celtics

New Orleans has beaten Boston only once in last six meetings

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans (22-20) next stop on their three-game road trip will present the stiffest of challenges: a date with the Eastern Conference leading Boston Celtics (34-10) inside TD Garden where they’ve dropped only five of 23 contests on the season.

Not only will New Orleans modest two-game winning streak be on the line but potentially a spot inside the playoff picture as well. There’s obviously plenty of games remaining on the docket, but with the Clippers notching their fifth straight victory — a win over the Rockets last night, the Pelicans have three teams hot on their trail, all sitting just half a game back. Someone’s going to end up on the outside looking in and suffering a bad tailspin similar to the Utah Jazz could mean the end of legitimate postseason hopes in the matter of weeks.

But first, let’s concentrate on the Celtics.

Head Coach Brad Stevens continues to do a masterful job in Boston, and his latest trick involved turning Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum into immediate key contributors in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s opening night injury. Although the Celtics cooled substantially in the middle of December, thanks to a 5-6 stretch, they’ve been streaking ever since, winners of seven straight that includes the Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Rockets.

Boston is led by Kyrie Irving and his 24.0 points per game, but the supporting cast is also excellent. The aforementioned Brown and Tatum are two excellent young wing players who do a bit of everything. Jaylen is the better defender, but 19-year-old Jayson has more than held his own as evidenced by these exquisite shooting numbers: 49.9 FG%, 45.9 3PT% and 82.2 FT%. Al Horford is as versatile of a big man you’ll find that isn’t among the league leaders in any prominent raw stats category, and who wouldn’t love to see Marcus Smart, a smart, tenacious defender, coming off their bench? Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes round out the rest of the typical rotation.

The Celtics calling card is their league-leading defense. They are just one of two teams who allow an average of less than 100 points per game. Outside of Kyrie, the rest of the usual playing roster holds opponents to below normal field goal percentages. Considering the Pelicans boast the league’s second effective field goal percentage, it’ll be interesting to see how it fares against the Celtics staunch unit.

Three Keys to Victory

Play hard, play for each other. Tom Thibodeau used these words in describing the Celtics after his Timberwolves fell to them in a recent 91-84 loss. It sounds simple, but as we know, it’s not an easy task to accomplish. New Orleans energy levels have wavered greatly so it’ll likely take their best effort just to have a chance to steal a victory at the end. Every player on Boston’s roster is going to give their all and be a handful for New Orleans questionable perimeter defenders not named Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans, at the very least, are going to have to match that intensity while making sure they remain under control — stay away from turnovers and poor execution!

AD continues to spread his wings. Anthony Davis has been magical over his last five quarters, posting 64 points, 20 rebounds, four blocks and four steals. Those fantasy type of numbers are going to have to continue if the Pelicans have any hope of snapping a three-year poor W/L record that has only resulted in one victory in the last six tries.

Holiday > Irving. New Orleans relies heavily on their Big Three so it would be an incredible boost if Jrue Holiday factors larger than Kyrie. That said, it still may not be enough if Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore constantly get torched on the defensive end.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Boston Celtics

Where: TD Garden

When: January 16, 2018, 6:30 p.m. Central

How: NBAtv, FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM