Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Monday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Boston at New Orleans, 8:05 ET

Boston head coach Brad Stevens can only sit and watch at this point. The Celtics (10-10 SU, 10-10 ATS) are too good to be a .500 team through 20 games, but as esteemed philosopher Bill Parcells once said, you are what your record says you are.

Stevens is one of the best brains in the business and will certainly aid the process, but Boston pulling itself out of its current rut lies squarely on the shoulders of point guard Kyrie Irving.

That’s how it works in the NBA when it comes to superstars. If you’re missing an elite player, making everything work falls on the coach. When you’ve got one, they stir the drink.

Boston, the preseason Eastern Conference favorite, now looks vulnerable and has company at the top, currently listed as co-favorite alongside the Raptors (7/4) with the Bucks and 76ers close behind (7/2) according to the most recent Westgate Superbook odds. Losers of four of the past five, the Celtics have really struggled since winning the most recent Atlantic Division summit meeting against Toronto, overcoming Kawhi Leonard’s most productive game of the season. Leonard’s 31 points and 15 boards couldn’t prevent his third loss since joining the Raps because Irving was superior, helping Boston rally and ultimately win in overtime behind a 43-point, 11-assist game in which he participated in every Celtics’ hoop in the extra session after scoring 17 points over the final 8:06 just to help get it there.

This meshing the Celtics thing is on him.

We’ll see what Irving picked up from LeBron as far as making great players around him better is concerned since the point guard is getting a taste of what the burden of expectations feels like. Boston shouldn’t be 10-10 at the quarter-point of the season when he’s been healthy enough to miss only one game. The frustration level is rising. Irving said he had a moment in Saturday’s 113-104 loss in Dallas where he almost “lost it” because of how badly things are going, saying him and teammates “have to learn about one another and how we respond in those environments and situations.”

It’s not even December.

Eventually, Boston will figure this all out and Gordon Hayward will start contributing more, but we’re clearly reaching the point where guys or going to get with the program or get phased out, egos be damned. Expect to see drama cooked up, but tonight’s stop in New Orleans (10-10 SU, 10-10 ATS) should go a long way in deciding how the next few days unfold. The Celtics don’t play again until Friday night against the young Cavs at home, so they can take some of the pressure off with a victory or set the stage for some prickly practices and harsh conversations. Maybe that’s what they need, but winning here can ensure a better attitude going into it, not to mention a happier flight as a three-game road trip culminates.

The presence Anthony Davis, who the Celtics covet but can’t make a move to acquire so long as Irving is on the roster under his current contract (Rose Rule), makes Monday’s marquee matchup all the juicier. Rumors of Boston’s desire to trade many of their coveted pieces to land the Pelicans’ star are so old they may get their own driver’s license soon, but Boston’s struggles will certainly fan those flames. The schedule makers have a great sense of timing since Davis and the Pels will visit Boston for a rematch of tonight’s game on Dec. 10, which should make for an interesting night filled with shameless courting from Celtics fans.

Davis’ Pelicans have lost three straight games after winning six of seven, so the pressure to snap out of a funk is present on their end, further spicing this contest up. Davis sat out Saturday night’s loss to Washington to rest on a second night of a back-to-back since he’s been dealing with a hip issue and decided he was in too much discomfort to participate after warming up. He's expected to play against the Celtics but I’d expect him to play after not suiting up the other night. Davis hadn’t missed a game since Dec. 1 and has missed just three of the first 20. Although he won't start unless Davis is a late scratch, Julius Randle should still play a major role as the primary catalyst on the second unit, essentially serving in Davis’ role with that group with everything going through him.

New Orleans has seen Jrue Holiday play terrific ball throughout most of the season, so his matchup with Irving will be telling. E’Twaun Moore has also raised his level of play at shooting guard, but head coach Alvin Gentry still lacks the type of depth Stevens enjoys and will be without starting guard Elfrid Payton for another month due to a finger injury. The Celtics will be without slumping wing Jaylen Brown (back) but have upgraded Hayward and Terry Rozier to probable despite ankle sprains.

The Pelicans play at the third-fastest pace in the league and have seen the ‘over’ prevail in six of their last eight, while the Celtics are in the bottom 10 in that metric but have surrendered 113 or more points in four of the last six (‘over’ 4-2). New Orleans’ last three totals have all closed above 235, while Boston just went ‘under’ its highest number of the season in its 113-104 Friday win in Atlanta, which wrapped at 223.5.

The card
Minnesota at Cleveland, 7:05 p.m. ET: Both teams have won consecutive games, which is a first for this season for the Cavs. Rookie Collin Sexton is starting to get comfortable, so his matchup with Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose should determine a lot here. Jordan Clarkson has been an x-factor for the Cavs off the bench. The Timberwolves have seen the ‘under’ prevail in 11 of their last 12 games, including the last six.

Milwaukee at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m. ET: Kemba Walker averaged 51.5 points in games against the 76ers and Celtics last week, but he’s slumping some over the past three, shooting 22-for-56 (39.2 pct.). Tonight’s game will be his first back-to-back all month, and he shot 3-for-15 from 3-point range the last time he played on consecutive nights. With Tony Parker attempting to come back from a knee injury, Walker could be in for a heavy workload after playing 34 minutes in Sunday night’s upset loss in Atlanta. The Bucks have won four of five and have averaged 131 points over their last three games, but this will be their first road game since Nov. 11. Milwaukee is 4-3 SU, 3-4 ATS) on the road this season.

Houston at Washington, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Rockets will be looking to avoid a winless three-game road stretch here, having fallen in Detroit and Cleveland as road favorites. Chris Paul remains questionable to play with a sore left leg, while Gerald Green is nursing a sore right ankle. Dwight Howard, who has had an interesting weekend, has missed the last three games with lingering gluteal soreness. John Wall should play despite an ankle sprain. The Wizards have lost five of seven against Houston since 2015.

San Antonio at Chicago, 8:05 p.m. ET: This feels like a must-win for the Spurs, who have dropped six of the past eight contests and surrendered 135 points in Milwaukee on Saturday after getting torched for 140 points by the Pelicans last week. The Bulls have lost six of seven straight up and ATS as they continue to look at young players while would-be starters Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn remain on the mend. This will be Chicago’s last home game until Dec. 7.

Indiana at Utah, 9:05 p.m. ET: Pacers All-Star guard Victor Oladipo has already been ruled out due to his lingering knee soreness, so we’ll see more of Tyreke Evans with the starters and rookie point guard Aaron Holiday running the second unit. Center Myles Turner and power forward Domantas Sabonis should participate despite lingering injuries as Indiana hopes to avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season. The Jazz shelved guard Donovan Mitchell in last night’s win in Sacramento due to a rib contusion and will determine whether he’ll return to the lineup closer to tip-off.

Utah will be seeking revenge after being trounced 121-94 in Indianapolis last Monday night. Oladipo was sidelined for that one as well. Ricky Rubio, who scored 27 points to in Sunday’s 133-112 rout of the Kings, also led the way with 28 points and six assists against the Pacers and will likely be a popular starting option in DFS lineups now that Donovan Mitchell has been ruled out again. Beware, he’s shot just 11-for-34 (34.4 pct.) on the second night of back-to-backs. Despite that, the Jazz are 2-1 in such games.

Orlando at Golden State, 10:35 p.m. ET: Stephen Curry will travel with the Warriors over their upcoming five-game road trip and presumably rejoint the starting lineup late in the week. He won’t be part of the mix against the Magic, which come off an upset win over the Lakers on Sunday afternoon and have won 8 of 12. Orlando has covered in seven of nine but has dropped 10 consecutive games against Golden State, last winning in 2012. Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon have co-existed extremely well of late and will benefit from the continued absence of Draymond Green, who remains sidelined with a sprained right toe.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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