Two teams that have gone in opposite directions since losing their top players to the Brooklyn Nets thus summer meet for the first time this season when the Boston Celtics visit the Golden State Warriors on Friday night.
The Celtics hope to ride their current momentum to a 10th straight win, while the Warriors will be seeking to prevent a sixth consecutive loss, when two teams that were considered strong possibilities as potential NBA Finals opponents in recent years — but never met in the postseason — square off.
Led by import Kemba Walker, Boston hasn’t lost since falling at Philadelphia on opening night. The Celtics have won four straight on the road since then, a streak that will be tested over the next eight days, when the Atlantic Division leaders will have to deal with the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets among five opponents.
The trip figures to build up to an exciting finish, with the two bottom teams in the Pacific Division — the Warriors and Sacramento Kings — providing warm-up acts over the first three days.
The Celtics won’t be at full strength for the trip, and for at least a month after that, with the loss of high-scoring guard Gordon Hayward to a broken left hand earlier in the week.
“I felt like we were building some good momentum as a team, as well as me individually. So the timing of it, definitely frustrating,” Hayward told reporters before Wednesday’s 140-133 home win over Washington. “It (stinks) watching and not being able to go out there and play, especially with the start that we’ve had.”
Hayward’s 18.9 points per game weren’t missed against the Wizards, with seven Celtics — including all five starters — scoring in double figures.
Once again, Walker led the way with 25 points, most of them coming on six 3-pointers.
The Warriors, on the other hand, managed just 94 points Wednesday in a 26-point blowout road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Like the Celtics, they were once again led by their new guard, D’Angelo Russell, who scored 21 points, although he missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
The 21-point outing ended a four-game run of 30-point games by Russell, who exploded for 52 in an overtime loss at Minnesota on Nov. 8.
Only seven other players have scored 52 or more points in an NBA game since the start of last season. Walker was one of them, going for 60 for Charlotte against the 76ers.
Asked during ESPN’s telecast Wednesday night to explain his hot start, Russell produced a surprising answer.
“I didn’t nap on game days, I just kind of winged it and did what I was feeling,” he said of the past. “Once I got in that consistent routine of napping and eating my pregame meal, things started coming for me.”
Fireworks followed the Walker-Russell head-to-head as it bounced back-and-forth from Brooklyn to Charlotte for four meetings last season.
Each led his team to a pair of wins, with Walker getting slightly the better of the individual duel, going for an average of 30.3 points, while Russell countered with 27.8 per night.
Walker (44) and Russell (27), who rank tied for second and tied for 22st, respectively, in 3-pointers this season, combined for 29 treys in last year’s games. Again, Walker held the advantage, 18-11.
–Field Level Media