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Preview: Celtics-Bobcats

03.03.10 at 10:14 am ET
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It has been said that athletic frontcourts are the Celtics Achilles heel. The Hawks, as everyone knows, swept the Celtics this season, and last week the Cavaliers unleashed the hounds once Shaquille O’Neal left the game. Those teams have proven to be too quick on the dribble and on the boards for the Celtics aging frontcourt to handle.

Of the teams alive in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, only one really fits that description: the Bobcats. Unlike the Hawks and the Cavs, however, Charlotte’s athletic frontcourt is better suited for defense than for offense. The Bobcats are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. They don’t shoot well, they’re not particularly strong on the offensive glass and they turn it over as much as the Celtics.

They are also thin in the backcourt and injured up front with three centers on the shelf for tonight’s game. But they are dangerous, more so now with the addition of Tyrus Thomas the one-time Chicago Bull headache. The Cats are dangerous because they slow the game down to a crawl and play terrific half-court defense, a staple of Larry Brown-coached teams.

If the Celtics were to meet the Bobcats in the playoffs (and if Charlotte was healthy) it could be the proverbial bad matchup for the C’s. Tonight’s game should give something of an indication if that indeed would be the case.

BOBCATS (28-30, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 94.9

Points Allowed: 94.3

Differential: +.6 (15th)

Offensive Efficiency: 103.9 (24th)

Defensive Efficiency: 103.2 (5th)

Pace: 90.6 (27th)

Likely Starters: Ray Felton, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Theo Ratliff

Injuries: Tyson Chandler (Knee), DeSagana Diop (Knee), Nazr Mohammed (Back, questionable)

CELTICS (37-21, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.6

Points Allowed: 94.3

Differential: +4.3 (7th)

Offensive Efficiency: 106.8 (14th)

Defensive Efficiency: 102.2 (2nd)

Pace: 91.7 (21st)

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

Injuries: Perkins (Flu, questionable)

Key Matchup: Paul Pierce vs. Gerald Wallace

Wallace has always been a weird player. It took him four seasons before he was able to put his package of skills together into a coherent piece, and even then he is still an odd NBA player. Wallace isn’t a good shooter, but he shoots a high percentage because he takes a majority of his shots at the rim. He is also the best rebounding small forward in the league. Pierce will have his hands full with Wallace as he continues his comeback from his latest set of injuries, and it will be up to the other Celtics to help keep him off the boards.

The Bobcats in a Paragraph: Michael Jordan recently put together an ownership plan that is expected to be approved by the NBA in the next few months. That caught many people by surprise, including the local Charlotte paper which ran a big feature of Jordan’s competition George Postolos just before the announcement that Jordan’s group had won the bid. If approved, this is a huge moment for Jordan to polish his post-career legacy. His work as an executive has been panned, for good reason, and there has always been a question of how committed he is to that role. It won’t be easy. The Bobcats are deeply in debt and are hamstrung under the salary cap. Making the playoffs this season would be a shot in the arm, but it would only be the start of building a successful franchise. Watching Jordan navigate these rough waters will be one of the key storylines for the league over the next few seasons.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: There are many things that bother Doc Rivers these days, but it’s his team’s home record which bothers him the most. The Celtics are a mere 16-11 at TD Garden this season. That ranks 18th in the NBA and is the second-worst home record of any of the teams currently in the playoffs after Miami. To date, no one has been able to explain the reason for this although the usual cliches about “focus” have been thrown around. Whatever the reason, games like tonight are a chance to begin turning that record around.

What to Watch For: This is the quintessential energy game for the Celtics. How much do they have after playing in Detroit the night before and how much will they be able to bring against a team fighting for a playoff spot? Once players like Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are allowed to get untracked, the harder they are to stop. If the Celtics want to make a statement, it needs to happen early or else it could be yet another long night.

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