The Boston Celtics are playing better despite being short-handed while the New Orleans Pelicans have struggled since getting healthy.
The Celtics seek their fourth consecutive victory Sunday when they visit the Pelicans, who are 0-2 since rookie Zion Williamson joined the lineup.
Jayson Tatum (groin), Jaylen Brown (ankle) and Enes Kanter (hip) were sidelined as Boston began a three-game road trip with a 109-98 victory at Orlando on Friday.
Kanter is out and Tatum and Brown are questionable for the game against the Pelicans. But the Celtics, who started the streak with lopsided home wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies, are doing just fine of late.
All-Star Kemba Walker scored 37 points and Gordon Hayward had 22 points and 14 rebounds against the Magic.
“Obviously, we had some of our top scorers out, so I tried to be more aggressive,” Hayward said. “I always try to be a playmaker and help the bigs out on the boards.”
The Celtics had 27 assists on 40 field goals.
“You have to focus even moreso when guys are out to do your job as well as you can,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “That’s what good teams do. You have to play with that kind of effort and do the little things that win games.”
The Celtics trailed by as many as 16 points in the second quarter, but Walker kept them in the game by making four 3-pointers. He went 10 of 16 from the floor in the first half.
“I thought (Walker) gave us everything he had in the first half and we were worried (whether) he would have much left,” Stevens said. “It was up to everyone else to take it to another level at that point and fortunately we did.”
Williamson has been outstanding in his first two games, though his minutes have been limited in the wake of a 44-game absence due to arthroscopic knee surgery.
He has averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game. He has made 15 of 20 field goals and 4 of 5 3-pointers, although he is just 3 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Forward Brandon Ingram earned All-Star consideration by averaging more than 25 points per game in Williamson’s absence. But in the two games he has played alongside Williamson — a 121-117 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday and a 113-106 loss to Denver two nights later — Ingram has averaged 17.5 points and shot 27.3 percent from the floor, including only 23.0 percent on 3-pointers.
New Orleans allowed a franchise-worst 24 offensive rebounds against the Nuggets, leading to 35 second-chance points. The Pelicans made just 18 of 30 free throws while the Nuggets made all 20 of theirs.
“He’s played great for us,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Williamson. “It doesn’t have anything to do with integrating him back in and everything to do with us keeping them off the offensive boards. That’s where the game was.
“We have to find a way to get ourselves into transition and the only way we can do that is not taking the ball out of the basket and getting our rebounds.”
New Orleans outshot Denver 46.3 percent (38 of 82) to 37.7 percent (40 of 106) from the floor and 44.4 percent (12 of 27) to 31.7 percent (13 of 41) on 3-pointers.
“I don’t think we wanted it enough,” Williamson said. “We picked it up a bit in the second half, but it’s a game of two halves and we didn’t play both.”
–Field Level Media