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Preview: Celtics vs. Hornets

02.10.10 at 10:09 am ET

This marks the end of the unofficial first half of the regular season and the Celtics remain something of an enigma. Despite all their struggles over the last month and a half, the Celtics remain one of the top teams in the league according to all the best indicators–record, point differential, etc.

Since Christmas, however, the Celtics are just 10-12. That’s a significant chunk of the season in which they have played more like the Bulls then the Cavaliers, the latter of which has won 19 of 22 games during that same stretch.

Coming out of the All-Star break the Celtics go on a long west coast trip and will endure a March in which they play 17 games in 31 days. At the beginning of the season that looked like a good time to give their veteran players some rest before the playoffs. Now it looks like a survival test.

CELTICS (32-17, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 99.0

Points Allowed: 93.7

Differential: +5.3 (4th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.7 (13th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.9 (1st)

Pace: 91.4 (22nd)

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

Injuries: Paul Pierce (Foot)

HORNETS (27-25, 4-6, last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.2

Points Allowed: 101.5

Differential: -1.3 (19th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.4 (14th)

Defensive Efficiency: 108.9 (20th)

Pace: 92.1 (19th)

Likely Starters: Darren Collison, Morris Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Emeka Okafor

Injuries: Chris Paul (Knee), Marcus Thornton (Back, questionable)

Key Matchup: David West vs. Kevin Garnett

According to, West takes about 64 percent of his shots from outside the paint, making him just another 6-foot-9, 240-pound jump shooter in a league that is now overrun with them. Normally, that would be a problem for the opposition’s power forward who would prefer to hang out close to the basket, defend the post and rebound misses. Garnett is anything but normal as a defender, and he has always thrived on such matchups. But this season there are indications that his individual defense has slipped, especially on the perimeter. Where he still shines is as one of the league’s premier help defenders, particularly when he anchors the middle of the defense from inside the paint. West will take him outside of that comfort zone and it will be worth watch this matchup to get another sense on how well KG is able to move.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: The last time these two teams played it ended with some nasty business Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. Unfortunately the Hornets all-everything point guard is injured and won’t play tonight. Paul’s replacement, Darren Collison, has played reasonably well for a rookie, but there’s no reason why Rondo shouldn’t dominate the matchup. He’ll need to without Pierce in the lineup.

The Hornets in a Paragraph: In the second season of a four-year contract James Posey is averaging about six points and four rebounds in 22 minutes a night. Nice work if you can get it and the Hornets have made a habit of extending free agent riches to past-their-prime wing players. Posey, Peterson and Stojakovic take up over $25 million in coin and cap space and will do so again next season. The Celtics decision not to match New Orleans’ offer for Posey cost them in the short run, especially last season, but that’s a long time to pay a role player.

What to Watch For: All around the league teams are turning in forgettable performances in lieu of All-Star weekend. Think of it as the equivalent of a Friday before a long holiday weekend. Chances are one team will show up to play tonight and that team will probably win. This is an opportunity for the Celtics to clamp down on their “focus issues” and feel good about themselves heading into the break. If it really is their choice to turn it on, tonight would be a good time to do so.

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