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Preview: Celtics-Wizards

02.01.10 at 10:49 am ET
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There once was a time when the Washington Wizards represented a direct challenge for the Celtics so great that some around the team were relieved when the C’s matched up with the Cavaliers in the second round of the 2008 playoffs rather than the Wiz. Things have changed a little bit since then, and whatever hold the Wizards used to have on the Celtics is long gone.

Of course there was also a time when it was a given that the Celtics would walk into a bad team’s arena and come away with a win whenever it was deemed necessary. This is one of those times. It’s one thing to lose against elite teams on the road. It’s another to lose a one-point heartbreaker against what is probably the best team in the league. But if the Celtics are going to pull themselves out of their funk, it has to start tonight.

CELTICS (29-16, 3-7 last 10)

Points Per Game: 99.1

Points Allowed: 93.8

Differential: +5.4 (3rd)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.5 (13th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.7 (1st)

Pace: 91.6 (22nd)

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

Injuries: Marquis Daniels (thumb)

WIZARDS (16-30, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.2

Points Allowed: 102.0

Differential: -3.8 (23rd)

Offensive Efficiency: 105.3 (22nd)

Defensive Efficiency: 109.3 (23rd)

Pace: 92.4 (16th)

Likely Starters: Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood

Injuries: None.

Key Matchup: Kendrick Perkins vs. Brendan Haywood

The Wizards don’t do a lot of things well, but one thing they do a little better than most is get on the offensive glass, and no one does it better than Haywood. Perkins has racked up some gaudy rebounding numbers this season, but there are times when he fails to do the most elemental thing a rebounder has to do: block out. In the midst of the Wizards’ mind-numbing problems, Haywood is having the best season of his career. Perkins has to keep a body on Haywood and keep him rooted to the floor.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: This is very simple for the Celtics: They have to win tonight. What has been most frustrating is that while the Celtics seem to grasp what they have to do, they just haven’t done it with any consistency lately. They are playing the second game of a back-to-back and their fourth game in five days, but that can’t be the excuse this time.

The Wizards in a Paragraph: We’ve made it this far and haven’t yet brought up Gilbert Arenas, “chambering a round,” or Finger Gunz. Despite all that, the Wizards still have talent, including four former lottery picks in their starting lineup. One of them, Randy Foye, has played particularly well since the Arenas madness took hold. But for the most part the Wizards remain a mismatched collection of talent who have not had the time, or the space, to mesh into any kind of a cohesive unit.

What to Watch For: How will the Celtics respond to adversity? If they come out strong, as they should, can they keep it up for 48 minutes and deliver the knockout punch? The onus will be on the second unit to carry over their strong play from Sunday’s game against the Lakers. Also look for Doc Rivers to keep Rondo with the second unit to match his speed with the diminutive Earl Boykins.

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