Celtics may get big surprise tonight when they host Nuggets


BOSTON -- If the Celtics' preparation for tonight's game against Denver focused on the Nuggets' last handful of games, they might be in for a big surprise tonight.
Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets' 6-foot-10 big man, suffered a left ankle injury on Nov. 30 against Chicago, and has not played in the six games since then. But coach Mike Malone has indicated that there's a chance that he may be on the floor tonight.

In addition to averaging 15.5 points per game, the third-year big man leads the team in rebounds (10.6) and assists (4.6) per game.
"He's getting closer," Malone told reporters in Detroit on Tuesday. "He's moving better. I think he's managing the pain."
As far as whether Jokic will play tonight?

"We'll wait and see," Malone said.
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight's game between Boston and Denver. 
When it comes to scoring, the Nuggets can hold their own with the best of them. But defense? Definitely not their forte. Denver comes into tonight's game giving up 106.8 points per game, which ranks 20th in scoring defense. Boston hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard this season (103.2 points per game, ranking 21st in the NBA), but you gotta believe being at home against a team that has struggled all season defensively will be just what the Celtics need to have a solid night offensively.  
The Celtics' improved rebounding has been critical to their ability to not only keep teams off the glass, but also limit opponents second-chance points. Boston allows a league-low 10.1 second-chance points but will be put to the ultimate test against Denver. The Nuggets come into tonight's matchup averaging a league-best 15.6 second-chance points per game. 
Second-unit play will be critical tonight, especially considering how, according to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics are eighth in the NBA in fewest points allowed off the bench (32.6) while Denver ranks seventh in bench scoring (39.8).
Boston is going to have to pick up its defense when it comes to the corner 3-ball, which has been a Nuggets' strength all season. According to nba.com/stats, Denver is shooting 45.0 percent on corner 3's this season, which ranks fourth in the NBA. And the Celtics, while having the league's top-ranked defense, have not defended the corner 3 so well. They come into tonight's game allowing opponents to shoot 43.4 percent on corner 3's, which ranks 24th in the league. 

If tonight's game involves clutch plays needing to be made down the stretch, you have to give the edge to Boston. The Celtics have had 19 games this season that fall under "clutch" parameters (ahead or behind by five points or less in the last five minutes of play) while the Nuggets have had eight. In those 19 games, Boston has a 14-5 record and its .737 winning percentage is fourth-highest win the NBA. The Nuggets aren't too far behind at .625 (5-3), which is the seventh-highest winning percentage in "clutch" situations.


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