Celtics-Hornets preview: Time to right the ship

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There’s a sense right now that the Boston Celtics are in trouble. They don’t think so, but losses in three of their last four games suggests at a minimum they are trending in the wrong direction.

Flash back to the last time the Celtics were in this predicament, it was after their second loss in as many games to start the season, to Milwaukee.

The path towards redemption began with a road win at Philadelphia, a game that players acknowledged was a much-needed pivot for towards success.

So as the Celtics look to get their season back on track, it would come as no surprise if the turnaround they’re searching for begins on the road.

Boston (27-10) will get a chance to put that theory to the test tonight when they travel to the Queen City to take on the Charlotte Hornets.

This will be Boston’s second matchup against the Hornets whom the Celtics defeated 90-87 on Nov. 10 at the TD Garden.

Kyrie Irving left that game after one minute and 50 seconds of action after suffering a facial fracture after accidentally being hit in the face by teammate Aron Baynes.

Boston played most of that game without Irving and they’re likely to play tonight’s game without his backcourt mate, Jaylen Brown.

The second-year wing suffered a left knee injury in Boston’s loss to Washington on Monday, and is considered doubtful to play tonight.

If he’s unable to play, Boston will likely turn to Marcus Smart who has filled in as a starter seven times this season, with Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin the likely backup guards off the bench.

With a record of 13-5, the Celtics have the best road record in the Eastern Conference, and ranks third overall in road winning percentage (.722) in the NBA.

Boston averages 35.1 defensive rebounds per game on the road which ranks seventh in the NBA this season.

And that ability to rebound the ball well defensively, is critical to Boston’s defense which has been elite both at home and away from the TD Garden.

They come into tonight’s game with a 100.9 defensive rating on the road which ranks second in the NBA.  

Meanwhile, the Hornets (12-21) are trying to gain traction in a season that has been filled with one setback after another.

Key players have missed time with injuries, but the biggest loss of the season has been head coach Steven Clifford having been out since Dec. 4 with due to health-related issues.

His replacement, associate head coach Stephen Silas, has gone 4-8 in Clifford’s absence.

"I want, first, what is best for Cliff – for him to be back and healthy,” Silas told the Charlotte Observer recently. “The two awkward parts (of replacing Clifford) are not having Cliff around – missing his presence and his personality and his knowledge. Not having that person you’d lean on in this situation. The other thing was the timing, kind of being thrown into it.”

The Celtics know all too well what that’s like and for the most part have thrived in those situations.

In fact, the journey that brought them to where they are now -- one of the top teams in the East -- began with the unexpected and unfortunate dislocated left ankle injury suffered by Gordon Hayward on Oct. 17 which is expected to keep him out all of this season.

And the jumping off point to their success afterwards began -- where else? -- on the road.

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