|11.24.09 at 10:28 pm ET|
At 7:30 p.m., the Celtics (10-4) will play host to the 76ers (5-9) in a collision of two teams that have been struggling of late – though Philly’s struggles suggest more far-reaching problems than do Boston’s. Despite the skewed skill levels, records and anything else that might separate a 10th-place Philly team from a playoff-bound Boston club, Friday night’s game carries a decent amount of intrigue – especially from the Boston perspective.
Of late, the Celtics have seemingly lost some of the swagger that they displayed during a 6-0 start. After dropping two straight to the Hawks and Pacers, Boston seemed to get back on track against Golden State in what was a pretty convincing win. But another slip-up against the Magic and an overtime buzzer-beating win against the 3-10 Knicks have made it appear that the Celtics are not in sync.
Center Kendrick Perkins attributed it to a lack of focus. But regardless of what’s been plaguing them, the Celtics need to improve – and what better team to straighten things out against then the 76ers?
Here’s what to expect Wednesday night:
Common ground – Despite the fact that Boston comes into Wednesday night’s matchup with its pocket full of recent struggles, the Celtics still are locked in at third place in the Eastern Conference. After they started the season 6-0, the C’s recent blunders have caused concern, specifically with their focus. Perkins described the Celtics as playing without determination and focus, citing sloppy practices as part of the reason the team has been stumbling.
Still, even with losses in three of the C’s last five, Perkins maintained confidence that Big Green will get back on track. After all, with the team’s significant talent, it’s hard to blame him. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has had a bumpy season right from the get-go. Recently, however, the Sixers seem to be getting their feet under them. After narrowly defeating the Bobcats only one week ago, Philly nearly took down Memphis (102-97) and LeBron and the Cavs (97-91) on back-to-back nights. While both games still are recorded as losses, the Sixers no doubt showed improvement over double-digit losses to Orlando and Boston at the beginning of the season.
Head to Head
Familiar faces – These teams see each other more than a few times a season. So far in 2009, the division rivals already have crossed paths once, with Boston winning easily, 105-74. Paul Pierce led the Green in that game, scoring 21 points to go along with eight boards and four assists.
Last season, Boston and Philly met up four times, with the Celtics sweeping by a combined total of 46 points.
Easier said than done – The Philadelphia offense is very simple. It runs through 6-foot-6 guard Andre Iguodala. Philly goes as Iguodala goes.
That being said, it’s a lot easier to talk about how shutting him down will frustrate Philly’s offense than it actually is to shut him down. Still, the Celtics are known for their defense, though it may be slipping of late. If there’s any time when Boston can try to regain its defensive prowess in search of immediate results, it would be Wednesday night, when the Celtics have a primary goal: Limit Iguodala. The emergence of starting point guard Lou Williams will make that a little bit more difficult for Boston, but the Celtics have shown in years past that they are able to do what needs to be done to take down Iguodala and the 76ers.
40– The percentage Boston shot from beyond the arc (10-for-25) in its 107-105 OT victory over the Knicks on Sunday. It was a huge improvement over the 11 percent (2-for-19) the Celtics shot in their loss to the Magic last Friday. Look for Ray Allen and Rasheed Wallace to get a lot of looks outside early as Philly tries to combat Kevin Garnett down low. But the numbers don’t lie — the Celtics better convert on those looks or they’ll struggle.
4 – The number of major statistical categories in which Andre Iguodala leads the 76ers – four out of five. He currently sits on top in points per game (18.2), rebounds (6.5), assists (5.7) and steals (1.8). The only category he doesn’t lead? Blocks. He ranks sixth on the team in that. It’s no exaggeration that the Philly offense runs through No. 9, which makes it that much more obvious what the Celtics have to do to win. But it also makes it that much more frustrating that it’s one of the hardest things in the game to do.
Well-rested – Neither Philly nor Boston has any significant injuries to primary players. Jason Kapono of the 76ers has been battling an ankle injury but only has missed one game all season because of it. His minutes have been limited, but he appears to be nearing full strength after contributing six minutes in last night’s 108-107 loss to the Wizards. Also, second-year forward Marreese Speights, Philly’s first round pick out of Florida, is out for the next 6-8 weeks after tearing his MCL against the Bulls on the 15th.
For the Celtics, it’s a similar story. Aside from Glen Davis, who has been out since the beginning of the season, it’s been a few minor injuries and not much else. Paul Pierce seems to be all but completely recovered from that minor knee strain he suffered last week, and Marquis Daniels is not at all worried about his wrist, which flared up after last Saturday’s loss to the Pacers.
There’s more good news on the injury front for Boston, as guard Tony Allen may be cleared to play in Wednesday night’s game, making his season debut. It’s not yet known for sure if he’ll suit up, but Doc Rivers did say that Allen looked to be “very close, as close that he may play” Wednesday.
Cause for concern? – Danny Ainge on The Big Show: “Each game, one at a time, there’s a reason why we lost, but once again I am not overly concerned because we make a shot here and a shot there and we get back into it. The big question for us is that KG is just not himself, I think everybody can see that, and when will he [be]? And then when will everybody just start making some shots? I think those are the big questions.”
Some telling words from Mr. Ainge. Yes, the bench is deeper this season than in years past. And yes, Rajon Rondo and Perkins are playing much better. But at the same time, the Celtics are built on defense, and Garnett is their foundation. It’s still very early in the season, and it’s important to remember that KG has only played competitive basketball for a few weeks now since those long months off, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.