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Preview: Hornets back in Boston to take on Celtics

Not on ESPN this time, but it should still be a good game.

Charlotte Hornets Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (28-23) at Boston Celtics (27-25)

When: 7:30 pm EST

Where: TD Garden; Boston, Mass.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Injury report:

BOS: Bol Bol: out (foot surgery), PJ Dozier: out (knee surgery).

CHA: Gordon Hayward: out (re-conditioning), Jalen McDaniels: out (left ankle sprain), Kelly Oubre Jr.: probable (left ankle sprain).

The Charlotte Hornets are taking another trip up north to face the Boston Celtics, winners of back-to-back games and four out of the last five.

During that five-game stretch, Boston has the best defense in the NBA by a significant margin. Couple that with the seventh-ranked offense, and the Celtics have been one of the best teams in the league over the last week and some change.

The Celtics’ improvement is thanks in large part to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Tatum is averaging 26 points per game, good for eighth in the league, and Brown has put up 26.8 per game shooting 37.5 percent from deep on 9.6 attempts during Boston’s recent hot stretch.

Robert Williams III has emerged as a potential third star with his wildly-efficient offense and ability to impact the game defensively on the interior or perimeter and Marcus Smart has really settled in as a facilitator, recording 12 and seven assists in his last two games. Boston doesn’t have much outside of their top-four, though. If a couple of the Brown, Tatum, Smart and Williams quartet have an off night, the Hornets should have a good chance to win.

Charlotte has gone 9-6 since the turn of the calendar, a mark worsened by dropping three of their last five games. A couple of ugly losses have been sprinkled in, but for the most part the Hornets have settled on a more effective balance of offense (fifth) and defense (26th) than earlier in the season, when a top-two offense was countered by a bottom-two defense.

The Hornets are going to be without Hayward and McDaniels, though Oubre seems very likely to return to the lineup based off comments given to The Charlotte Observer’s Rod Boone. James Borrego having as many of his 6-foot-7 defenders as possible to throw at Brown and Tatum would be ideal, but with two of them sidelined, Miles Bridges and Cody Martin may take the brunt of the tough assignments.

Boston runs the fifth-most isolation sets in the league. On-ball defense is Bridges’ strong-suit and something Martin, Oubre and Washington can handle with competence. It really doesn’t take much to slow down the Celtics’ role-players; they’re not an efficient shooting team (22nd in 3P percentage league-wide) and they lack second-unit playmakers outside of the ill-fitting Dennis Schröder. Collapsing the defense when Tatum and Brown drive and rotating hard to make sure nobody else gets a wide-open look or driving lane will be key.

The Celtics carved up Miami’s zone defense on Monday by putting Tatum at the free throw line and giving him freedom to make plays. It’ll be interesting to see if Borrego employs that at all, because it worked against Boston back on Jan. 19. Hornets-Celtics games have been pretty entertaining the last couple of seasons, and tonight’s matchup should be more of the same.