The last play of February features two teams in the NBA that haven’t lost since the all-star break ended. The Boston Celtics won at Detroit by 12, at New York by 9 and at home against the Grizzlies by 11. The Charlotte Hornets have won four in a row since the end of the break: vs. Brooklyn, at Washington, vs. Detroit and vs. Chicago — all by at least 15.
Neither surge has been particularly surprising. Boston struggled down the stretch before the break. It looked a little worn out and Kyrie Irving has been a rejuvenated player since he got a week off. He is shooting the ball better and doing more of the little things on offense to get his teammates involved. So much of what Boston does is predicated on attention to detail and energy level and both of those have seen a spike after the time off.
One predictive model I check periodically throughout the season is at FiveThirtyEight. Charlotte has consistently been regarded as a better team than its record suggests in that model. It’s had the Hornets right in the middle of the NBA, yet Charlotte has floundered down at the bottom for most of the season. Now, it’s starting to come back to where the model has had it all season.
The Hornets are between 7 and 7.5-point ‘dogs on Wednesday night at the Boston Garden with a total of 208 across the board.
Of the seven games the two teams have combined to win since the all-star break, there is only one that was particularly impressive and that was Charlotte’s 17-point win at Washington, which is playing great basketball in its own right.
Charlotte recorded 26 assists on 44 made field goals and Frank Kaminsky scored 23 points off the bench to help his team overcome a 33-point night from Bradley Beal and win on the road. It was a display of what the Hornets can do when everybody is involved in the game. They don’t have the type of talent you would wish for, considering how much money is on the books but they do have talent and I don’t think it’s late to buy on it for a stretch here.
Playoff aspirations are still alive. I don’t think they will sustain the feverish pace it will take to get in, but I do think they will try. The Hornets still have another good week or two of hard basketball before fatigue will start to set in and reality strikes. That’s why I’m planning to get behind them tonight.
The Celtics will be well-rested for another home game, though. Boston didn’t have to ask much out of any one guy in the win over Memphis. Irving played 25 minutes, Al Horford played 24 and Jaylen Brown 26. Only Marcus Morris played more than 30.
I do believe the Celtics are back for a while at least but you would have a point to be skeptical. They’ve beaten three teams that are walking in their sleep these days. Basically, what I think you have in tonight’s game is two teams that will go hard in the paint and play to win up until the end. In such a case, 7.5 points are always good.
Free Pick: Charlotte +7.5