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Preview: Celtics-Nets

01.13.10 at 10:33 am ET

In the aftermath of the loss to the Hawks Monday night, there were many conflicting emotions. Some players didn’t like how the game was called. Others expressed uncertainty about the was the team was handled once Doc Rivers was ejected. But one player refused to pay any of that any mind; Paul Pierce.

“We don’t make excuses,” Pierce said when asked about the officiating. When someone asked about four of the starters playing 40+ minutes, Pierce pointed out that the Hawks had done the same thing.

Pierce is the captain, and in pro sports the whole notion of the captain isn’t nearly as important as people like to think it is. But he is the public face of the franchise and the first person to respond to the media’s questions. In essence Pierce helps set the tone for how the press deals with the rest of the locker room. Pierce was stoic and measured in the face of adversity Monday night and added yet another layer to his leadership credentials.

CELTICS (26-10, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.7

Points Allowed: 93.8

Differential: +6.9 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 109.1 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.6 (Third)

Pace: 91.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Brian Scalabrine, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Rasheed Wallace (foot) Marquis Daniels (thumb)

NETS (3-34, 1-9 last 10)

Points Per Game: 89.8

Points Allowed: 101.1

Differential: -11.4 (30th)

Offensive Efficiency: 97.3 (30th)

Defensive Efficiency: 109.6 (22nd)

Pace: 92.3 (18th)

Likely Starters: Devin Harris (questionable, wrist), Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian, Brook Lopez

Injuries: Harris.

Key Matchup: Pierce or Scalabrine vs. Jianlian

The Nets have made a tactical decision to see what they have in Yi, the Chinese forward whom the Celtics might have drafted had they not made the Ray Allen trade on draft day in 2006. Yi’s career has been filled with injuries and false starts, and it was time for the Nets to see if he can be a part of their future. His development seems to have come at the expense of Lopez, at least in part. Shots and plays that were called for the center are now being run for Yi and he has responded favorably, averaging over 18 points and seven rebounds since his return to the lineup.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: Without Garnett, the Celtics have gone 3-3 and their defensive efficiency numbers have begun to tumble a bit. Considering all that has transpired over the last few weeks they have done a decent job of holding things together, but without Wallace this will be a big test to continue pushing forward until Garnett returns.

The Nets in a Paragraph: Despite their wretched record, you can make the argument that the Nets have done a better job of tearing down their team in anticipation of the 2010 free agency class then their cross-river rivals in New York have done. They have only $26 million allotted for salaries in 2010, which in theory gives them a ton of space to try and sign players. They also have their draft pick, and the possibility of adding Kentucky phenom John Wall. The Knicks gave their pick up to Utah several years ago. Much will depend on whether they can move to Brooklyn, which leaves all of their future plans in limbo.

What to Watch For: The Celtics have sometimes struggled against poor teams and no one is poorer than the Nets. They will have find to their motivation in the notion that any win right now is a good win. The Nets don’t do any one thing well that gives the Celtics problems, but strange things can happen in the middle of the winter in the swamps of Jersey.

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