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Preview: Celtics vs. Pistons

01.20.10 at 10:27 am ET

Kevin Garnett is close to coming back for the Celtics. He practiced Tuesday and might play Friday against the Blazers, although that seems a little optimistic considering how cautious everyone has been with his various leg injuries.

The question for Garnett and the Celtics is: Which KG will we see on the floor? The one at the beginning of the season was tentative and out of rhythm offensively. The KG we saw before the injury was one of the best shooting big men in the NBA and a strong rebounder. Even when he’s not at his best, Garnett remains an excellent passer and a terrific help-side defender, and the Celtics have been struggling with stagnant offense and sub-par defensive rotations.

It’s too much to ask Garnett for him to pick up right where we he left off, but he needs to be that player again at least by the All-Star break if the Celtics are going to have any time to get everything in place for the playoffs. Marquis Daniels is also tentatively scheduled to be back by that point and that would be the first time this season the Celtics would have their nine-man rotation fully upright and operational.

CELTICS (27-12, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.2

Points Allowed: 93.8

Differential: +6.4 (Second)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.7 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.7 (Third)

Pace: 91.7 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist)

PISTONS (14-26, 3-7 last 10)

Points Per Game: 92.2

Points Allowed: 97.1

Differential: -4.9 (27th)

Offensive Efficiency: 103.6 (24th)

Defensive Efficiency: 109.9 (21st)

Pace: 88.5 (29th)

Likely Starters: Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, Jonas Jerebko, Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace

Injuries: Will Bynum (ankle), Ben Gordon (questionable, strained groin), Tayshaun Prince (questionable, knee)

Key Matchup: Kendrick Perkins vs. Ben Wallace

The Pistons are not very good this season. They are struggling to stay above the Pacers in the Central Division basement, and they are porous on defense and slow and uncreative on offense. Still, they are less than five games out of the last playoff spot which says more about the East then anything positive for Detroit. The one player who has kept them going has been Wallace who is putting together his best season since 2007. Wallace is one of the league’s best offensive rebounders and he remains a tough defender. It will be up to Perkins to keep him off the glass and it will also be a test of Perk’s energized low-post game.

Celtics in a Paragraph: The Celtics need a win tonight. Their upcoming schedule is tough and they are in danger of losing ground to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference race for homecourt. The Celtics swore last season that homecourt didn’t make a huge difference and in the end it didn’t, as they failed to beat the Magic in Game 7 at the Garden. Judging from the quotes that have emerged from the locker room this winter the Celtics are putting a little mote emphasis on securing homecourt this season. Games like this will go a long way toward realizing that goal.

Pistons in a Paragraph: Joe Dumars had a decision to make last summer. He could have held tight to his cap space knowing that the Pistons would probably suffer through a down year, or he could throw money at the class of 2009 and try to rebuild quickly. Dumars chose the latter, signing Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. This didn’t make a lot of sense at the time because Dumars had already extended the contracts of Hamilton and Prince and it makes even less now that the Pistons are near the bottom of the league in every statistical category. Their core is now muddled and their young players are not ready to take over yet. Detroit is in danger of spending the foreseeable future stuck in NBA limbo.

What to Watch For: This is Rasheed Wallace’s homecoming to the place where he had the most success. Even with Hamilton and Prince and Wallace back in the fold, this team bears little resemblance to the one that owned the East for the middle part of the decade. If the Celtics needed one, it’s a reminder that windows of opportunity don’t stay open forever.

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