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Preview: Celtics-Blazers

01.22.10 at 10:21 am ET

Kevin Garnett’s return, if it happens tonight, couldn’t come at a better time for the Celtics. But for Garnett personally, the timing couldn’t be worse. The Celtics have problems right now ranging from the physical to the mental. Garnett can help fix some of those things but he can’t do it all in one night, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to ask him to try.

Garnett hasn’t played since the end of 2009, or just over three weeks ago, and during that time he apparently did no conditioning before this week, according to the team. It will take him a week’s worth of action, at least, to get back in rhythm and game-condition. The end game isn’t for the Celtics to get out of their swoon, it’s to be functioning on all cylinders in April, May and June.

All that said, if he does play tonight, his mere presence can have a galvanizing effect on a team that has grown stale. Just don’t expect him to solve all the Celtics problems yet.

TRAIL BLAZERS (26-17, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 97.7

Points Allowed: 94.2

Differential: +3.5 (Eighth)

Offensive Efficiency: 111.0 (Fifth)

Defensive Efficiency: 107.1 (17th)

Pace: 87.4 (30th)

Likely Starters: Andre Miller, Jerryd Bayless, Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge, Juwan Howard

Injuries: Brandon Roy (hamstring), Nicolas Batum (shoulder), Greg Oden (knee), Joel Przybilla (knee), Travis Outlaw (foot)

CELTICS (27-13, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 99.9

Points Allowed: 93.8

Differential: +6.1 (Third)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.2 (11th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.6 (Third)

Pace: 91.8 (21st)

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

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

KEY MATCHUP: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Rasheed Wallace/Kevin Garnett

In the absence of just about everyone on his team, Aldridge has to assume a larger scoring role. He gets his points from the perimeter. According to Aldridge takes 65 percent of his shots from the outside, which means whoever guards him will have to live out there and deal with pick and pops all night. This is the kind of matchup Garnett tends to thrive on, when he’s healthy. He’s one of the very few big men in the league who is as comfortable 20 feet from the basket on defense as he is in the paint. Wallace, however, has struggled chasing around younger players who drift outside.

The Blazers in a Paragraph: You want to talk about injuries? Go ahead and look at the Blazers who lost both their centers, two small forwards and now have their franchise player, Roy, out with a sore hamstring. Because they are still in contention, the Blazers are in a unique spot. On the one hand they have the assets to acquire a big man to replace Oden and Pryzbilla. On the other, they still haven’t seen what this team can do, and perhaps it would be better to ride this year out and reload for next season. It’s a tough call for Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard who has carefully assembled this team piece by piece with shrewd moves and more than a little lottery luck.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: We’ve become somewhat numb to the fines the Celtics have racked up this season, but after Wallace was docked $35,000 for saying this, Doc Rivers was fined $25,000 for getting ejected and Glen Davis was hit $25,000 for yelling an obscenity at a fan, the Celtics have been fined $85,000 the last two weeks. Their frustration is becoming an expensive habit.

What to Watch For: The Blazers average the fewest possessions in the league, which means they play at a very slow pace. They also play a lot of zone (the two things are related), which takes advantage of their size and length. The Celtics have struggled against zone defense in recent weeks. The Hawks used it to great effect in the fourth quarter of their win at the Garden last week and the Pistons played some on Wednesday. A team with Ry Allen and Eddie House simply shouldn’t struggle so much against a zone, but they have and they can expect to see more of it until they figure it out. The Celtics will also need to control the glass and try to get some transition baskets.

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