NEW ORLEANS — The Celtics' five-game road sojourn ends Monday at Smoothie King Center against one of the league's most impressive big men in New Orleans's Anthony Davis.
It's already been a difficult big man tour for the Celtics, who've seen Nikola Vucevic of Orlando, Miami's Hassan Whiteside, Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, and San Antonio's LaMarcus Aldridge. Davis could be the best of the bunch, and the Pelicans have improved since a 1-11 start.
Davis is averaging 24.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocked shots per game.
"Very talented, athletic, runs the floor," Celtics starting center Amir Johnson said of Davis. "For me, I just have to keep with his high energy, just outmatch his energy. My strengthwise, running the floor, beating him to spots on defense, and making him work on offense."
The work of Johnson and the importance of containing Davis aren't lost on Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
"It's a really important positive in this league to be able to defend [power forwards]," Stevens said. "Because of most of [their] ability to stretch the floor and you've got guys like Aldridge and Davis, who are two of the elite guys at making plays in the game. I think that's why [Johnson] is such an important part of our team. He gives us at least an ability to make those guys at least earn their points."
On Davis, Stevens said: "We have to have more than one person guard him. Anthony is one of the better players in the league. His ability to roll to the rim is outstanding. His run to the rim is outstanding. His face-up game has really improved. He's a much-improved all-league-caliber player."
Davis signed a $145 million extension to remain in New Orleans this past offseason, and the lone obstacle from becoming an elite player is staying healthy.
"His game is more expanded," Stevens said. "He's always been able to make jump shots, drive into pull-ups. He's now running off screens. He's a great player.
"In this league, it's not who you're playing but when you play them, and we've got the best version of the New Orleans Pelicans [who have not played since Friday]. It's going to be a great challenge for us."
Lee wants in
The Celtics host the undefeated Warriors on Friday night at TD Garden, and David Lee wants to be ready to face his former club.
That is now in question, as Lee is expected to miss a few days with a bone bruise in his right heel.
Lee said he sustained the injury Thursday during the Celtics' win over the Kings in Mexico City when he landed awkwardly. The injury remained a mystery to the Celtics until just before the team's Saturday matchup with the Spurs, when Lee said the injury began causing more discomfort.
As the Celtics practiced Sunday at Smoothie King Center, Lee sat on the sideline icing the foot, unable to go.
"Once I went through warm-ups today, it didn't feel any better," he said. "Those things can take two days or two weeks, depending on how severe. I'm hoping because it doesn't hurt a whole lot when I walk around that it's going to be a couple of days. But obviously I hate sitting out. I'll be back as soon as humanly possible. I just wish I had a better idea of how quickly something like this heels."
Lee had been averaging 6.9 points off the bench since becoming a reserve following the third game of the season.
Zeller finds relief
Meanwhile, center Tyler Zeller, who like Lee lost his starting spot after the season's third game, is working to make an impact in whatever limited minutes he receives. He's been held out of six of the Celtics' 20 games this season but has gained an increased role of late.
"I'm trying to get a little bit of rhythm back," he said after working extra following the team's practice. "Pick and rolls, I overrolled a couple of times, rolled too slow a couple of times, just trying to get back in that flow, knowing where to be.
"It's something I've got to keep working at. A lot of shots I'm taking it's like, 'What am I doing?' So I'm just trying to get back into the flow."
Zeller had a strong preseason and began the season as the starting center. A couple of unfavorable matchups in the early season — against Jahlil Okafor and Tim Duncan — forced him to the bench, and by Game 5 he was out of the playing rotation.
"First couple of games were rough," he said. "It's been up and down all year. Just trying to stay positive, waiting for the opportunity. You've got to play hard and hope to get minutes, and if not, you've got to support the teammates who are playing. We've got a lot of great guys here, and it makes it easier when you get along with the guys playing. You're happy for them.
"Last year when I was playing a lot, the same teammates were supporting me. I owe it to them to be a good teammate and support them. I take my anger out in workouts."