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Apr 1, 2024 3:50 am

Celtics aim to avenge early-season loss to Hornets

jayson tatum

The Boston Celtics complete an extended road trip when they face the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.

Other than back-to-back, last-minute losses in Atlanta, the Celtics have had a good road swing, going 3-2. They got back on track by winning 104-92 on Saturday at New Orleans.

“The effort was there (and) the defensive execution as far as game plan was there,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of finding the right formula again. “It’s continuing to find that balance. We played a bunch of different lineups.”

The Celtics (58-16), who have wrapped up the Eastern Conference’s top playoff seed, have won 10 of their past 12 games.

Boston tends to get positive results with a brisk pace, but it’s not all about tempo for the Celtics.

“We don’t necessarily want to play faster,” Mazzulla said. “We just want to think faster. We want to get to our spacing faster.”

Clearly, the expectations are extremely high for the Celtics, so the defeats against the Hawks last week raised some external questions about the team’s ceiling.

“It’s impossible to ignore the noise, but it’s more about where our team and our locker room keeps its focus,” Mazzulla said.

The Hornets (18-56) will host a top contender for the second night in a row after falling 130-118 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

Even in the defeat, the Hornets matched their highest point total since Feb. 15. They probably will need that kind of production again if they hope to down the Celtics.

For Charlotte, the games against upper-echelon opposition are critical in seeing where the team needs to go. Coach Steve Clifford hopes the team benefits from the experience, particularly the younger members of the roster.

“Where they’re going to learn the most is to play intense games that really matter,” Clifford said. “It’s important that they do learn and that we have an environment that they’re playing to win.”

The Hornets are attempting to remain competitive even though they have been out of playoff consideration for quite some time and they have lineup limitations caused by injuries.

“Guys have to earn their minutes,” he said. “I want us to play better.”

The Celtics took a rare loss when the Hornets pulled off a 121-118 overtime victory Nov. 20 in Charlotte. Miles Bridges sank the winning 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left in OT on a night when Boston’s Jayson Tatum put up 45 points and 13 rebounds.

Tatum has been the Celtics’ leading scorer in each of the past four games.

“We have a ton of weapons,” Mazzulla said. “We have to go to different lineups that bring different things.”

The Hornets were dinged for 41 points on Sunday from Clippers standout Paul George, who has been identified by Hornets rookie Brandon Miller as his favorite player. Miller said he wants to take what he saw from George and try to build his game from there.

After the Monday contest, the Celtics will complete the regular season with six of their last seven games at home.

The Hornets are 1-2 to begin an eight-game homestand. They close with three straight on the road, including a visit to Boston on April 12.

–Field Level Media

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