Game 18 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Celtics

Game Time:  4:30 p.m.  TV:  CSNNW and NBATV

Wearing a 13-4 record around their collective necks like so much bling, the Boston Celtics won't see any reason to lose this game against the suddenly-struggling Trail Blazers.  Rajon Rondo is having the pinnacle season of an already-impressive career, shooting near 50% and dishing out 14 assists with 2.5 steals per game.  If he could hit a three he'd be all-universe but...aw, heck, forget the threes.  He's all-universe right now.  Kevin Garnett is far enough over the hill to start gaining momentum but he's still averaging 16 per game on 52.5% shooting, picking spots and shots with aplomb.  His weakness is averaging but 3 foul shots per game.  Paul Pierce is still scoring 20 and is shooting 51% himself, plus he hits threes (41%) and draws a few fouls (5 shots per game).  Ray Allen, far enough over the hill to have lost momentum and just cruise, is hitting from everywhere (48% from the field, 45% from the arc).  Shaquille O'Neal mans the middle, contributing 12 and 7 and only playing 23 minutes per game to keep fresh.  In the absence of Kendrick Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal, Glen Davis chips in 10 and 5 in 29 minutes.  Then you can go down the list of players you don't recognize on sight and realize that they're all performing well too.  In fact this team leads the league with 50.4% shooting from the field and is third in three-point percentage.  They don't draw foul shots or they'd score at a recent-vintage Suns level.  They just don't have many team weaknesses on offense...or at least they know how to avoid falling into them.

Their defense is not quite so overwhelming.  They're 9th in the league at field goal percentage and three-point defense, 15th in free throw attempts allowed.  They do force turnovers.  They allow fewer fast-break points than anyone in the league and are third in points in the paint allowed.  Much like their offense, their defense is percentage-oriented.  They don't like giving up easy buckets but they'll live with anything else.

In order to preserve defensive integrity Boston mostly ignores the offensive glass but they are a decent defensive rebounding team.

In other words, you're just not going to find many holes here.  They're talented, deep, committed to working together, smart, and play the game they way it should be played.

The Blazers, on the other hand, are again short-handed, lacking confidence, staring at each other, and play the game in short spurts of production followed by dry wilderness treks of frustration.

Keep in mind, though, that the games nobody (including the opponent) expects you to win are exactly the ones you come closest to taking, if not take outright.  Portland still has players who rise to big-game occasions.  Portland has a history of making turn-arounds out of the blue.  Portland also drags opponents into ugly-butt, grinding games...not a desire of the Celtics.  Plus the Blazers don't thrive on shots that the Celtics like to defend.  Want to seal the paint?  Go right ahead.  Don't want us to fast break?  No problem.  Going into a game relying on lower-percentage shots isn't a recipe for long-term success, but the Blazers do get hot from time to time and the Celtics won't stop the kind of jumpers Portland takes.

Ask me if the odds of winning this game are good and I'll tell you no.  Nobody in their right minds would call Portland winning tonight.  But this game might not be as lopsided as you think and it wouldn't floor me if the Blazers did paint one on the Celts, not necessarily playing better than they have but just by getting hotter than they have.  Don't go talking any trash to Celtics fans just yet, but don't give up on this game before it's played either.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest Form here.  Don't forget it's a new month so everybody starts at zero again with the same chance to win.

You can smell the roses (or shamrocks, I suppose) over at CelticsBlog.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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