The Boston Celtics were running away at the top of the Eastern Conference a few weeks ago, but things are not progressing as smoothly of late. The Celtics will try to bounce back from a Christmas Day setback when they make a brief one-game road trip to visit the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.
Boston was rolling along at 22-4 after a win over the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 6 but dropped six of its next 11 games and fell to the Washington Wizards 111-103 at home in front of a national TV audience on Christmas. “I just think that you go through ups and downs in a season,” Celtics center Al Horford told reporters after the loss. “You know, tonight I felt good about our chances. We put ourselves in position to win the game. We weren’t able to do it, but they were. We are still the same team, I actually think that we are better.” The Hornets are losers of 12 of their last 16 but went into the holiday break with some momentum after coming back from 18 points down to earn a 111-106 home win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. Charlotte will put that momentum to the test with a date against the Celtics followed by a trip to Golden State on Friday to face the defending champion Warriors.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCS Boston, FS Southeast (Charlotte)
ABOUT THE CELTICS (27-10): Boston surrendered 14 offensive rebounds to the Wizards on Monday, and coach Brad Stevens was quick to point to that being the difference. “It’s the idea that you had a stop and then you gave up a basket,” Stevens told reporters. “You’ve got to finish plays at a better level. That’s been a pretty consistent theme with us over the last couple weeks. We’re not rebounding from the wing the way we did earlier in the year, and against these guys you don’t have that margin for error. They’re just too good. And I thought they had their way with us in a lot of ways.” The Celtics also lost swingman Jaylen Brown to a sprained right ankle in the game, and he might not travel with the team to Charlotte.
ABOUT THE HORNETS (12-21): Charlotte center Dwight Howard played through a dislocated finger on Saturday and delivered 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 16 rebounds. The veteran left the previous game after five minutes due to the finger injury but played with a splint on Saturday and logged 32 minutes while serving as the team’s high scorer. Point guard Kemba Walker had his own scare after suffering a head injury on Friday but was cleared of a concussion and ended up scoring 19 points in Saturday’s win.
1. Celtics PG Kyrie Irving scored 20 or more points in each of the last eight games and is averaging 28.3 points in that span.
2. Charlotte SG Treveon Graham (back) returned from a three-game absence and scored a career-high 14 points off the bench on Saturday.
3. Boston took the last five in the series, including a 90-87 home win on Nov. 10.
PREDICTION: Celtics 103, Hornets 92