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Game 57 Preview: Celtics vs. Blazers

Game Time:  7:30 p.m. Pacific    TV:  Comcast and ESPN

Well, well, well, look what the NBA Schedule Cat dragged in.  Wait, that's not a dead rodent.  That's some kind of massive, multi-headed dragon beast!  And it has a black belt in Karate.  And it has an AK-47 in one claw and pepper spray in the other.  And it's MOVING!  No, Kitty!  Bad, bad Kitty!!!!  I don't want that in my living ro...AAIIIIIEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Yup, the Celtics are in town.  They carry a record of 33-19 into this game which is pretty good considering Kevin Garnett has been injured much of the year and has not been showing Big Ticket intensity since he's been back.  Rumor has it instead of getting on all fours and barking at Jerryd Bayless this year Garnett plans to politely sniff his backside.  That's just not KG.  Perhaps that explains Boston's 6-6 record since Garnett's return.  The six wins have come against middling-to-substandard teams.  The six losses have been to good teams.  Portland evidently provides the dividing line between good and middling as the Blazers took the Celts to overtime in Boston a month ago before succumbing to a Ray Allen dagger and a 3-point loss.  The Blazers are hoping home cooking plus a slightly healthier roster will provide the edge needed to topple the Celtics.

Underperforming or not, a starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins is no joke.  There's enough ammo there to blow up the Rose Garden twice.  If Brandon Roy is limping or out because of that hamstring Portland will have a hard time countering Boston's bling.  Every one of their starters scores and rebounds.  Most can pass as well.  You can't pull the old trick of laying off somebody to shadow Pierce closer because even Perkins will offensive rebound and post you to death.  Portland has to hope that one or more Boston starters has a rough night, as with Allen back on January 22nd

After yesterday's trade of Eddie House and change to the Knicks for Nate Robinson Boston's bench now features Rasheed Wallace, shooting guards Marquis Daniels and Tony Allen, and Big Baby Glen Davis.   None of them are apt to have a huge game but all of them are solid at this point in their careers.  It's not like the Celtics will sub them in en masse anyway.  They'll always be playing with a Rondo or a Pierce.  Under those circumstances they're more than adequate for the job.  You won't get a huge rest against their second unit.

The Celtics' main claim to fame remains their defense.  They rank first in the league in defensive efficiency.  Holding the opponent to 93.7 ppg allows them a +5.0 point differential even though their offense doesn't click on all cylinders every night.  If you run it into the teeth of their defense they're going to shut you down.

The Blazers' best chance tonight is to play smart, fast, and with energy.  Their margin for error will be small.  They need to identify seams in the defense and strike decisively.  They cannot simply take it one-on-one but they cannot afford to pass up open shots once they do pass either, no matter where those shots may be.  If Portland has to shoot a lot of threes in the halfcourt then so be it, as long as they're open.  LaMarcus Aldridge seems to take the Kevin Garnett challenge personally so that's a probable source of points as well.  Just make sure whoever he passes it to against the double-team is ready to hit.  An even better plan would be to not allow the Celtics to set up defensively in the first place.  One of the habits that veteran teams fall into after they've won a couple hundred games in smooth, professional fashion is to not respond quickly when the other team just blitzes them like crazy.  The Celtics fall into that trap from time to time.  Make all of these big names get back down the floor and gut out some transition defense.

It's not going to be a matter of who is important tonight, but how each player for the Blazers is important.  Aldridge has to hit the jumper and pass in timely fashion if doubled.  If the Celtics don't double him then he has to punish the sometimes-unenergetic Garnett and Wallace while not letting either uncork on the other end.  It's a big night for LaMarcus.  Webster and Fernandez have to take and make their threes.  Bayless and Miller have to drive hard and draw fouls.  They also need to push the tempo in transition.  Batum has to watch pierce, Camby has to rebound, Cunningham needs to be frenetic and surprise the Celtics with his explosiveness.  If Roy plays he just needs to feel good.  If we get a little of that from everyone, plus we force the Celtics outside on offense, plus we rebound well, then sure...we have a chance.  Otherwise Boston should cruise with this game, homecourt or no.

The realistic goal here is to win one of the next two games at home, as they're both against tough teams.  Really, though, the Blazers need to beat the matter how healthy the roster is and no matter what has gone on before this.  A win tonight would be icing on the cake but the gut-check game comes Sunday.

Check out the Celtics' doings, including all of the latest on the Nate Robinson trade, at the aptly-named CelticsBlog.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (