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Preview: Hornets meet Celtics on second night of back-to-back

Isaiah Thomas joined the Hornets just in time to face his former team.

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (32-34) vs. Boston Celtics (39-27)

When: 7:00 p.m. EST

Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, N.C.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Injury report

BOS: Aaron Nesmith; out (ankle).

CHA: James Bouknight; out (neck), Gordon Hayward; out (ankle).

Charlotte hosts Boston less than 24 hours after falling to the Brooklyn Nets, whom Jayson Tatum dropped 54 points on in a win for the Celtics on Sunday. Tatum’s NBA-leading second 50-point game this season tied him with Larry Bird for the most 50-point games (four) in franchise history. He’s a top-10 scorer at 26.9 points per game, defends the opposing team’s best player and has taken a massive leap as a passer, garnering him some late-season MVP buzz.

The Celtics have been the best team in the NBA since the turn of the calendar, holding the league’s top net rating and defense along with a top-10 offense. The trade deadline additions of Daniel Theis and Derrick White bolstered depth while freeing up minutes for Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, and Ime Udoka has fully settled in as a rookie head coach.

Robert Williams III has earned some awards buzz himself as a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. The anchor of the NBA’s best defense is third in blocks per game (2.2), having been enabled to reach his potential mostly by a clean bill of health, but also the free safety-style off-ball roamer Udoka deploys him as.

NBA journeyman Nik Stauskas recently signed with Boston after scoring 100 points in two days with the G League’s Grand Rapids Gold. Stauskas set a G League record with 38 first-half points and finished with 57 against the Wisconsin Herd, following it up with a 43-point game against the Lakeland Magic the next night.

The roller-coaster that is the 2021-22 Hornets season rides on. The Nets scored 30-plus points in all four quarters last night, and despite the Hornets outscoring them 78-63 in the second half, Brooklyn won by double-digits. Charlotte is 12th in defense and top-10 in net rating post All-Star break, so whether one chalks last night up to a defensive regression or helpless by-standing to a 50-point Kyrie Irving explosion is up to them.

It’s somewhat unlikely Charlotte gets back ahead of the Nets in the standings, but it’s unlikely they fall out of the play-in entirely. The Hawks haven’t quite figured things out, and the Wizards are without Bradley Beal and have gone 5-5 in the last 10 games; neither are showing signs of a team putting together a run. There’s still time for the Hornets to get back to where things were a few months ago, and there’s good news on the injury front.