Road trip preview: The Celtics are starting to pull away in the East, but how long will that last?
Last night, the Boston Celtics beat Bradley Beal and the Washinton Wizards to improve to 9-1 on the season, further solidifying their top spot in the eastern conference. While the race has been pretty close in the standings for the majority of the first few weeks, Boston now sits 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Raptors (8-3) and 2 games ahead of the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks who are tied for third at 7-3. The Philadelphia 76ers who started their season 5-0 are now in fourth place in the East with a 7-4 record.
The Boston Celtics currently sit atop the NBA with a 9-1 record through the first ten games. Photo via Winslow Townson
While things are certainly looking good for the C's right now despite their unfortunate run of injuries, they may be set for their biggest challenge of the season so far over the next week and a half. Coming off of their 2 game homestand and in the midst of their 9 game win streak, the Celtics are now set to travel on their longest western conference road trip of the season and are going to face off against some tough teams.
So, can the Celtics make it back to Boston with their win streak still intact? Or will they finally drop one or two against some of these very respectable opponents? Let's take a look at each of the five games on their road trip and see what we're up against.
Golden State Warriors: 2-10 record (November 15th @ 10:30 p.m. eastern time)
Now let's just get the obvious out of the way first, this is NOT the same Warriors roster we have been used to over the past few years. Not even close. Having lost NBA superstar Kevin Durant in free agency this summer as well as one-half of the homegrown splash brothers Klay Thompson for the majority of the season to injury, things were not really looking up for the Warriors relative to their mini-dynasty of the last 4 seasons.
However, with their sign and trade addition of former Nets star D'Angelo Russell paired up with 2 time MVP Steph Curry and former defensive player of the year Draymond Green, Golden State looked like a solid low seeded playoff team in the West. But all of that quickly went out the window when Curry broke his hand just a few games into the season and is now expected to miss at least a few months if not longer.
As of right now, Golden State sits at 2-10 with the worst record in the NBA and with the Celtics being the hottest team in the league right now, it shouldn't be too much of a challenge to get this one out of the way early. The biggest problems will most likely come from D'Angelo Russell, who is averaging 25.7 points and has scored at least 30 in three out of his last four games. With the way, Marcus Smart has been defending every position this year I don't see him being scorched by Russell to the point where Boston loses the game. As a result, the Celtics should be fully capable of getting the win on the road and moving on to the rest of their road trip.
Sacramento Kings: 4-6 record (November 17th @ 3:30 p.m. eastern time)
While not as bad as Golden State, the Kings have not gotten off to the best start either. They sit at 10th in the Western Conference with a 4-6 record led by shooting guard Buddy Hield who is averaging 18.3 points a game.
The Kings definitely have a lot of young potential and talent on their roster right now, but once again with the way the Celtics are playing they shouldn't be too much of a challenge to this win streak. Sacramento is 2-3 in their 5 home games thus far, most likely due to their lack of experience and depth. As long as we can control their starting five (specifically their backcourt) on the defensive end they shouldn't be too much of a problem at all.
Phoenix Suns: 6-4 record (November 18th @ 9 p.m. eastern time)
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season thus far, the Suns are currently tied for 7th in the western conference with a 6-4 record. Established scorer Devin Booker had continued his dominating solo act in a Suns uniform. He is averaging 25 points a game and will certainly be a problem for the Celtics no matter who is guarding him. That's just the type of player he is.
Another big surprise coming from the Suns this season has been the play of former Celtics role player Aron Baynes, who has just been spectacular on both sides of the ball for Phoniex in the absence of the recently suspended Deandre Ayton. He's averaging 16 points and 6 rebounds throughout the first ten games and currently sits amongst the top +/- totals in the league.
While the Celtics should certainly be favored, I can see this game being a tough one. The Suns seem to be focused on proving themselves right now and if both teams come to play, it could easily go down to the wire. Hopefully, the fact that Phoenix is 2-2 over their last four games is a sign that they're cooling off and Boston can come in and snag another victory.
Los Angles Clippers: 7-4 record (November 20th @ 10 p.m. eastern time)
Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers is picking up right where he left off last season. Dominating the league. Photo via Ezra Shaw
This will be a tough one. The Los Angeles Clippers turned the league upside down this summer when they added two top tier NBA superstars in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. George has been sidelined all year so far due to injury, but even without him, the Clippers continue to look like a powerhouse.
Kawhi Leonard is going to do his thing, that is guaranteed. There are very few players in the league who can play on both ends of the court like Leonard does. He is purely a generational talent and will be the biggest challenge the Celtics' win streak if they do manage to keep it going up until they hit L.A. So far this year he leads his team in almost every major category, averaging 26.8 points per game, 8.9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2.1 steals.
Three-time sixth man of the year winner Lou Williams and big man role player Montrezl Harrell will also be problems for the Celtics throughout the game. Williams has been a scoring machine for the past couple of seasons and this year is no different, as he is averaging 22 points a night. Harrell certainly contributes on the offensive end as a complimentary third piece. He's scoring a solid 18 points nightly to go along with his 7 rebounds.
This will be a statement game for both contending teams within the entire season, and if the Celtics want to win they will have to give one of their best team efforts yet, especially with the absence of Gordon Hayward. What works in Boston's favor is that the Clippers have had a TOUGH string of games over the past couple of weeks. Their last six have been against Utah, Milwaukee, Portland, Toronto, and Houston in which they went 3-2. They will next face off against the young and athletic New Orleans Pelicans tonight. Hopefully, some fatigue will set in by the time they play the Celtics next week.
Update: Paul George returned from injury last night for the Clippers in their 132-127 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans without Kawhi Leonard. He scored 33 points on 58% shooting with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. It's safe to say he'll be a problem for the Celtics as well despite their matchup being early in his comeback.
Denver Nuggets: 7-3 record (November 22 @ 9 p.m. eastern time)
The final game of the road trip will be no cakewalk and potentially just as challenging as the Clippers. The Nuggets came into the season as one of the top projected teams and have shown up as such so far. Led by Nikola "the Joker" Jokic and Jamal Murray, Denver is an extremely well-balanced team and knows how to use that to their advantage, as they are currently tied for the second seed in the western conference.
Nikola Jokic will definitely be a problem for the Celtics as their biggest weakness thus far into the year has been at the center position. He's currently putting up 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists a night and if the Celtics still lack depth in their five spot due to some recurring injuries, he could prove the difference-maker in the game's result.
It would be tough for Boston to beat either the Clippers or the Nuggets individually, let alone back to back. However, similar to Kawhi in L.A., Jokic and the Nuggets are going to do their thing. If the Celtics want to come out on top, then they have got to do everything and anything they can to play at the highest level on both ends of the court.
After the Nuggets, the Celtics will finally return back to Boston. It will be extremely difficult for them to make that trip back on the same win streak they left with, as they would then be at 14 straight wins against numerous playoff teams. But while returning on the win streak is unlikely, that does not mean it's impossible. With the team ball they are playing on both ends of the floor, the Celtics are fully capable of beating anyone of these teams, and thus EVERY one of these teams.
Either way, it's not the end of the world if they drop a game or two on the road. What's important is that the keep up the great effort and the team chemistry remains high. That is what makes a contending team, not a winning streak.
But what do you think? What are your expectations for the Celtics' upcoming road trip? Who is the biggest threat to their win streak? What will be their record when they return home to Boston. Let me know in the comment section down below.