The Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks each picked up much-needed momentum to start 2019, but only one will manage to sustain it when the teams meet Friday night in Boston.
The Celtics (22-15) started a four-game homestand on Wednesday night by taking down the Minnesota Timberwolves despite missing point guard Kyrie Irving, who sustained eye scratches Monday night in the ugly loss at San Antonio.
But with Irving down, Gordon Hayward rose up.
Still coming back from the gruesome broken leg that sidelined him last season, Hayward rebounded from a demoralizing scoreless game at San Antonio to pour in 35 points off the bench in the 115-102 win over the Wolves.
"It lifts us up seeing him and everything that he's been through," Celtics guard Marcus Smart told the Boston Globe. "And to see him keep fighting and come out here and finally feel comfortable is something this team needs moving forward."
More good news for the Celtics was the play of Terry Rozier, who got the start in place of Irving and contributed 16 points and five assists in 32 minutes. Rozier could again start against the Mavericks. Irving will have his eyes re-evaluated, and his status for Friday night's game was unknown as of Thursday afternoon.
That was also the case with forward Marcus Morris, who left Wednesday's game with a stiff neck after falling hard to the floor in the second half. After the game, he told reporters his neck was "sore as hell."
With or without Morris and Irving, Boston's leader in scoring and assists, the Celtics will finally try to get on something of a roll; the Celtics have managed to string together back-to-back wins just once since mid-December when they had their season-best eight-game winning streak snapped. Boston is just 4-5 in its past nine games.
Meanwhile, Dallas (18-19) heads to Boston with the unfamiliar feeling of having won a road game. Its 122-84 drubbing of the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, which included a franchise-record 10 made 3-pointers in the first quarter to set up the blowout, snapped a nine-game road losing streak. It was the Mavericks' first road win since Nov. 28 and just their third win away from home in 19 games this season.
The Mavs, led by rookie sensation Luka Doncic, can be dangerous. Dallas, 15-3 on its home floor, is looking for the season sweep after beating Boston 113-104 on Nov. 24. Doncic, the runaway leader for the NBA's Rookie of the Year award as the season nears the halfway point, had 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in the win over Charlotte. In his last five games, Doncic is averaging 23.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
Playing in Charlotte, site of next month's All-Star Game, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was asked if his sensational rookie could possibly be selected.
"Time will tell," Carlisle said. "He's having a terrific year. But look, we're in a team thing here and I'm just real reluctant to get into talking about individual stuff. We're slugging it out. … Generally speaking, if you're having a great individual year, and your team is winning, you have a chance to make the All-Star team."
Doncic's backcourt mate, second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has come under some scrutiny and reportedly could be on the market, played one of his most efficient games with 18 points on 10 shots, plus seven assists, while playing in his home state against Charlotte.
Updated January 3, 2019