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NBA: New Orleans Pelicans @ Boston Celtics preview

The New Orleans Pelicans continue their road trip as they look to hang around the top of the Western Conference despite the absence of Zion Williamson.

The Pels have had a stellar season but with the former number-one pick out, they could find themselves going backwards given the tight nature of the top of the Western standings. With the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies starting to pull away, the third-placed Pelicans should be looking over their shoulder.

Things get even more challenging for the Pels this week, as next up for them is a visit to a Boston Celtics side that hold the best record in the NBA this term. Can New Orleans cause some problems for the title favourites?

WhatNew Orleans Pelicans @ Boston Celtics
WhereTD Garden, Boston
When00:40, Thursday, 12th January 2023
How to watchNBA Pass and bet365's Sports Live Streaming
OddsNO Pelicans 7/2, BOS Celtics 2/9

Test of Pels credentials

It's a shame the Pelicans head into this clash without Zion, given that they've established themselves as a serious threat in the West this term. They've climbed up the outright betting too, finding themselves priced at 22/1 To Win Outright the NBA title this term.

However, the visitors have lost two of their last three without Zion, going down to the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks. They've lost their star player during a run of clashes with other contenders, so it's hard to get a true estimate of where New Orleans' ceiling is this term.

The Pels have also been without Brandon Ingram, but there's hope he can return by the weekend, if not against Boston. The visitors also have CJ McCollum to rely on after his good recent form, after he top-scored for them in three of their four games without Zion. He led them to a victory over the Washington Wizards with 34 points last time out, so they still pack some scoring threat.

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Big week for Boston

The Eastern Conference leaders have won three straight games heading into this clash, with Jayson Tatum scoring 95 points in that run. They've won at Dallas and the San Antonio Spurs, alongside a victory over the Chicago Bulls.

However, this looks set to be a decisive back-to-back for Boston, as they meet the Brooklyn Nets after this encounter with the Pelicans. Going up against the league's form side should be a huge test for Joe Mazzulla's team, who are currently the 7/4 favourites for the NBA Eastern Conference.

Last season's beaten finalists did have a bumpy run through December, but things have turned a corner. With three straight wins, the Celtics look to be back to their best. Those wins came by a combined margin of 42 points, so they've been putting on a show.

The Celtics have the second-highest points-per-game record in the NBA, while Jayson Tatum continues to press his MVP case. He posted 32 points in the victory over Chicago, the eighth time he's posted 30+ points in the last month. Tatum is 20/23 to post over 31.5 points in this one, while he's among the top MVP contenders at 4/1.

Overall, the Celtics have a strong 16-5 home record coming into this one. They've recovered their form and have a 7-3 split across their last 10, while they've won 61% of their clashes with sides who sit above .500. Considering their form and the absence of Zion, it's easy to see why the Celtics have been made 2/9 favourites in the Money Line.

Celtics will be pushed

The Celtics are heavily favoured for this one, priced at 9/2 to win by 10-13 points. However, even without Zion, the Pelicans are a side that can cause problems. They're an incredibly well-coached group which pushed the Suns in the Play-offs when Zion was out for the season.

The Pelicans are ranked fifth in defensive rating in the NBA and they are likely to put up a real fight. Not only that, but they've been fantastic in big games so far this season. The Pels have a 14-2 record against teams above .500, so they clearly won't be blown away even if the Celtics are firing on all cylinders.

The Pelicans have also managed to keep their scoring up, only losing to Brooklyn by six, while they racked up 117 points in a recent visit to Dallas. They beat the Wizards 132-112 and while this one looks set to be another Celtics win, the visitors should make it competitive. Take the Pels with a +9.5 advantage, which looks like a good option at 20/23.

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