|01.25.10 at 10:39 am ET|
The second half of the season begins with what might be the most important week the Celtics will have in the regular season. They start with the Clippers but then run through a back-to-back session with Orlando and Atlanta and finish with a home showdown against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon.
With Kevin Garnett back in the lineup, it’s time to seriously consider how good the Celtics are, and whether Danny Ainge needs to make a move to shore up the roster for the stretch run. How well they do this week, and how well Garnett holds up, should help fill in some of the blanks in terms of what this team needs.
The two primary areas of concern are turnovers and defensive rebounding. They have lived with being a high-turnover team in the past, mainly because they shoot the ball so well and they have also been among the best teams in the league in rebounding. They still are a great shooting team, but by giving away so many possessions, and failing to recover them on the defensive end, their shooting isn’t the cure-all that it’s been in the past. For that reason, another big man would probably make sense, but there aren’t any P.J. Browns out there right now.
Tonight’s game is a chance to provide some breathing room in what will be an arduous test.
CLIPPERS (20-23, 5-5 last 10)
Points Per Game: 96.2
Points Allowed: 98.7
Differential: -2.5 (20th)
Offensive Efficiency: 104.5 (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 107.3 (18th)
Pace: 91.8 (20th)
CELTICS (28-13, 5-5 last 10)
Points Per Game: 99.8
Points Allowed: 93.8
Differential: +6.0 (Third)
Offensive Efficiency: 108.1 (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.6 (Second)
Pace: 91.6 (22nd)
Injuries: Marquis Daniels (thumb)
Key Matchup: Baron Davis vs. Rajon Rondo
It has gone overlooked in recent weeks, but Rondo has once again struggled with consistency. At times he has been brilliant, and at other times he’s been merely good. Rarely he has been sub-par (the Chicago game would qualify), but the Celtics need Rondo to be their best player on many nights and he has not quite reached the level where he is automatic.
In Davis, Rondo has a savvy experienced foil who can match his athletic ability and also use his strength to give him problems. You may remember that on Davis’ game-winner in late December, Rondo actually had a hand on the ball when he went up for the shot and Davis was still strong enough to drain the 22-footer. Davis has his own problems with consistency, which seem to be more a matter of motivation playing for a mediocre team. Neither player should have trouble being up for this game.
The Clippers in a Paragraph: For all the talk of a “Clipper Curse” and bad karma, the Clippers remain what they have always been: a poorly-managed team with a handful of good players at the end of their careers and young talent that can go either way in their development. Griffin’s knee injury robs them of a certain amount of hope, but the Clippers still would have had a hard time reaching the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference with him in the lineup. That’s not mysterious. That’s simply bad luck and poor work in the front office.
The Celtics in a Paragraph: Ray Allen has had four games where has not scored in double-digits and three of them happened in the last four games. Allen has not shot the ball as well as he did last season, but his overall numbers are not far off from his career marks. He is the only Celtic starter who has played all 41 games and he leads the team in minutes played. It may be time to begin monitoring his minutes over the next month or so in an effort to conserve his energy. That’s where the Marquis Daniels injury affects the Celtics so much because without Rondo, Allen becomes the de-facto ballhandler. They need him on the floor right now, but they also need him in April.
What to Watch For: The Clippers front line is huge with Camby and Kaman and the Celtics will need to keep those two off the offensive glass. That effort will actually start on the perimeter where Rondo will have to keep Davis out of the paint. If they can limit second-chance points, the Celtics should have enough depth to wear down the Clippers, who played last night in Washington.