The Boston Celtics (8-12, 4-5 home) host the Denver Nuggets (11-7, 5-5 away) on Friday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., ESPN). Here's what to watch for:
FIRST-TIME MEETING: Friday's game will feature two of the league's nine first-year coaches this season. Boston coach Brad Stevens (Butler) and Denver coach Brian Shaw (former Pacers assistant) crossed paths only briefly in Indianapolis while the two were climbing the coaching ladder, but Stevens handed out heavy praise for his counterpart. "I’m really impressed with him as a coach and, from everything I’ve heard, even more so as a person," said Stevens. "I think he’s great. Everybody that comes across his path speaks really highly of him." Shaw, who was drafted by the Celtics in the first round back in 1988 (24th overall), has the best record so far among the NBA's first-year coaches.
STEVENS EXPECTS BOUNCE-BACK NUGGETS: Did Boston miss Denver's dud? The Nuggets' Ty Lawson had been averaging a team-best 17.6 points per game during Denver's recent seven-game winning streak. The Cavaliers ended that run on Wednesday and Lawson finished a mere 1-of-13 shooting with four points. Stevens knows that won't happen again. "Lawson is obviously not going to have that kind of game very often," he said. "[The Nuggets] play fast, they are very skilled, very aggressive. and [Kenneth] Faried’s been one of my favorite players to watch forever since she was at Morehead St. I could go through the laundry list of things we need to do well, but we’re going to have to play exceptionally well, maybe as well as any game we’ve played, to do what we want to do [Friday] night."
TRANSITION DEFENSE IN FOCUS: The Nuggets rank in the top half of the league in most of the league's major advanced statistical categories, including seventh in offensive rating (105.3) and 13th in defensive rating (102.2). The Nuggets attack the offensive glass (8th in offensive rebound percentage) and limit their turnovers (sixth in turnover percentage). They only glaring weakness is defensive rebounding (29th in defensive rebound percentage). Will the Celtics try to exploit that? Worries about transition defense might limit how much Boston attacks the offensive glass. "The bottom line is one of the reasons [the Nuggets struggle on the defensive glass] is because they are so small. We’re small, too," said Stevens. "It’s not going to be the battle of 7-footers to start that game [Friday]. It’s a bunch of undersized guys for their positions, but very effective guys. [J.J.] Hickson’s very effective; Faried’s very effective, as are [Brandon] Bass and [Jared] Sullinger, so it’s a little bit unique and that uniqueness will be evened out because we’re both that way. The biggest key is you have to be able to manage [attacking the offensive glass] with getting back, because they are a fast team to the other end of the floor."
WHAT ELSE?: With some help from our friends at ESPN Stats and Info: The Nuggets averaged 110.7 points per 100 possessions during their seven-game winning streak. That mark would easily top the NBA if maintained. ... Boston has won 19 of its last 22 home games against Denver, including three straight. ... The Nuggets own the fourth-highest pace in the league (99.22 possessions per 48 minutes) and will likely crank the tempo. ... The Celtics won't be the only team waiting on a player rehabbing from ACL surgery (Rajon Rondo) as Denver's Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL in April. He averaged 16.2 points per game last season, second most on the team behind Lawson (16.7). ... Boston is just 1-7 against teams at or above .500 this season.