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Celtics-Pacers Preview

12.22.09 at 11:27 am ET

Way back on Nov. 14, Danhtay Jones had a career night. This came as a bit of a surprise to various members of the Celtics, who were still shaking their collective heads several days after Jones burned them for 25 points in their only road loss of the season. Jones is not known as a scorer in any meaningful way, but at that moment in time he was in the midst of the best offensive month of his career, averaging 17.5 points and shooting over 46 percent from the floor.

Jones has returned to his regular ways in December (8.5 points per, 40 percent shooting), and his Pacers team has crash-landed along with him. It would be wrong to pin all that on him, of course. Jones is a small piece of his team, but it speaks to the danger of over-reacting to one game or one month.

Over the first 16 games of the season Rasheed Wallace took 146 shots and 96 of them were 3-pointers. In other words, two thirds of the shots that Sheed took were from beyond the arc. That would be Jason Kapono territory, but not even Kapono would take that many. Over the last 10 games Wallace has greatly cut back on his 3-point attempts, launching “just” 41 percent of his from 3-point range. The result is a much more efficient second unit that has a certified low-post option at its disposal.

All of which is to say that while it’s folly to place hope in veteran players like Jones becoming something they are not, it is possible to get different results from veteran players like Wallace by simply changing their approach.

CELTICS (21-5, 9-1 last 10)

Points Per Game: 101.5

Points Allowed: 91.9

Differential: 9.5 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 110.4 (Sixth)

Defensive Efficiency: 100.0 (Second)

Pace: 91.3 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Glen Davis (thumb), Marquis Daniels (wrist)

PACERS (9-17, 3-7 last 10)

Points Per Game: 97. 4

Points Allowed: 101.2

Differential: -3.8 (T-24th)

Offensive Efficiency: 1007.7 (26th)

Defensive Efficiency: 104.6 (10th)

Pace: 96.7 (Second)

Likely Starters: Earl Watson, Dahntay Jones, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Roy Hibbert

Injuries: Danny Granger (foot), Travis Diener (toe), Jeff Foster (back)

Key Matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Troy Murphy

Murphy is kind of like the perimeter version of Zach Randolph. Like Randolph, Murphy puts up big numbers in points and rebounds, and like Randolph, he also gives back much of what he gains on the defensive end. The difference is that while Z-Bo sometimes likes to imagine himself a 3-point gunner, Murphy actually is one of the best-shooting big man from long range. He’s a tick below 40 percent for his career from beyond the arc. That ability to stretch the floor can play havoc with some teams whose big men don’t have the defensive range to cover outside the paint. In Garnett the Celtics have such a defensive player, but while KG works on the outside that leaves the interior open for guards to crash the glass.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: It’s early yet, but there is already a groundswell for the Celtics to get their starting five into the All-Star Game. It’s not likely thanks in large part to the whims of the voters who have only one Celtic (Garnett) among the starters in the early returns. Rondo and Pierce should have two reserve spots all but locked up, which leaves Perkins and Allen to fight it out among a host of similarly-skilled players at their respective positions. So while getting three players into the game looks possible, four would be a longshot and five seems almost out of the question.

The Pacers in a Paragraph: Indiana exists in the vast NBA wasteland which stretches from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. The Pacers are not good enough to be taken seriously and not bad enough to consider a serious rebuilding project with a few bad contracts thrown in to hammer that reality home. The result is an underwhelming team on the court and at the box office, where they rank 27th despite playing in one of the NBA’s best arenas. There are no Brandon Jennings-type of prodigies on the roster and their best player — Granger — is hurt and probably best served as a second star on a truly good team. It’s depressing, really.

What to Watch For: The Celtics play the Magic on Christmas Day and then head out for their first west coast swing of the season. The Pacers, meanwhile, lost a heartbreaker to the Bucks last night. This has blow-out written all over it, but only if the Celtics bring the kind of energy they brought on Sunday against the Timberwolves.

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