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Preview: Celtics-Pistons

03.15.10 at 9:29 am ET

At this point in the season, where do the Celtics rank in relation to the other top teams in the NBA? They can no longer be considered one of the elite teams. Their record indicates that they are the fourth-best team in the East and their point-differential ranks eighth in the league. That’s good, but hardly championship-caliber.

The difference between the Celtics and the Hawks may not be that great, but the difference between them and Orlando is growing and the Cavaliers might as well be on another planet. This can all change of course, but while the Celtics are reeling, teams like the Magic, Nuggets, and even those old and gray Spurs are getting better.

Matchups will determine a great deal once we get into April and May, but right now, in mid-March, this team looks more like an outsider than a contender.

PISTONS (23-43, 2-8 last 10)

Points Per Game: 93.4

Points Allowed: 97.9

Differential: -4.5 (26th)

Offensive Efficiency: 104.5 (23rd)

Defensive Efficiency: 109.6 (21st)

Pace: 88.8 (29th)

Likely Starters: Will Bynum, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell

Injuries: Rodney Stuckey (Dizzy), Ben Wallace (Knee, questionable), Chris Wilcox (Back)

CELTICS (41-24, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.4

Points Allowed: 94.2

Differential: +4.2 (8th)

Offensive Efficiency: 106.8 (17th)

Defensive Efficiency: 102.3 (1st)

Pace: 91.7 (22nd)

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

Injuries: None.

Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo vs. Will Bynum

As the Celtics continue to age rapidly right before our eyes, Rajon Rondo has to assert even more authority on the court. Against a team like the Pistons that is injured and going nowhere, motivation is a tough thing to find. But to a player like Will Bynum, every game is a chance to make a name for himself. Bynum may start in place of Rodney Stuckey, who had great success against Rondo earlier in the season. If he does, Rondo can’t afford to have a letdown.

The Pistons in a Paragraph: Nobody likes to say, “I told you so,” more than sportswriters, but it would be fair to say that most observant observers saw Detroit’s struggles coming once Joe Dumars traded in his cap space for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Both are good players, useful even, in the right context, but as the new standard-bearers for a franchise trying to rebuild, they are not nearly good enough. Worse, on this roster, they are redundant. Dumars has long earned the benefit of the doubt after a career of savvy maneuvers, but this looks like a situation that will get worse before it gets better.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: What now for the C’s? There are still 17 games left to be played before the playoffs start and the first 65 have not proven much. They still have not established homecourt. They have come up short repeatedly against the elite teams and they have not shown the ability to grind out wins against lesser ones. They can still cling to their 23-5 start, but that now feels like an aberration.

What to Watch For: It’s not easy playing the second game of a back-to-back (Memphis says hi), but the Celtics have run out of excuses. This is a game they should win, but the same thing has been said numerous times over the last two and a half months. For the Celtics, nothing is guaranteed, not even a home game against the Pistons.

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