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How C’s-Cavs are different now

02.25.10 at 1:00 pm ET
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WALTHAM — It seems much longer than four months when last the Celtics played the Cavaliers on opening night in Cleveland.

And for both teams – who meet tonight at TD Garden at 8 p.m. – the perspective has changed.

The Celtics went into Quicken Loans Arena on Oct. 27 and came away with a 95-89 win and served notice that they were intent on reclaiming their perch atop the Eastern Conference with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen back in full stride.

That night Pierce led a balanced attack with 23 points, overcoming a game-high 38 from LeBron James. But C’s coach Doc Rivers said beyond the final score, there’s not much to take from the result that night.

“Nah, they’re not the same team,” Rivers said. “We’re not the same team. We won. We can take that away from it but other than that, I think both teams have forgotten about that.”

Indeed. Since then, the two teams have taken different paths. The Cavs, after losing their first two and starting the season 3-3, have rebounded to claim the top spot in the East and the NBA at 44-14, despite a recent three-game skid.

[Click here to listen to Rivers explain how Cavaliers are different than opening night.]

The Celtics, who stood 23-5 following a Christmas Day win over Orlando, have battled injuries and inconsistency and stand 36-19, just ahead of fourth-place Atlanta by a game in the loss column.

Both teams made moves at the trading deadline to strengthen themselves. While the Celtics added firepower with Nate Robinson, Cleveland acquired more front court athleticism in Antawn Jamisoin, dealing away Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Cavs lost their first three games following the trade with Jamison in the starting lineup before he scored 18 in Tuesday’s win over New Orleans.

“They are different, watching them on tape the last two games,” Rivers said. “The Jamison thing has changed them a little bit. It definitely makes it more difficult to guard them so we have to get ready for that.”

“Antawn has always been very tricky around the basket,” added Ray Allen. “He’s a great offensive rebounder. He’s going to add even greater depth from the power forward position where getting the next possession is going to be big for him.”

Speaking of Allen, he is still dealing with back issues that forced him to miss the final game before the All-Star break.

“It seems like my back hurts more now than it did before,” he said. “Obviously, it’s kind of dissipated a lot since New Orleans but I’m still dealing with it.”

The Celtics will likely be without Paul Pierce, who is nursing a sprained right thumb.

“It doesn’t mean I’ll take more shots,” Allen said of Pierce’s likely absence. “It just means I’ll probably be more of a playmaker. Tony [Allen] has to come in and play well for us and Nate [Robinson] will get in and get more minutes. Definitely, the wealth will be spread around.”

“Everybody knows how LeBron is,” Robinson said. “He gets everybody involved. He’s one of the best players in this league but you have to compete and match his energy and be ready to compete. We just have to attack and be ready to play.”

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