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Preview: Celtics-Jazz

03.22.10 at 12:09 pm ET
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How many times have you written off the Celtics this season? The official count varies, but there have been at least five times when people have begun writing their obituary.

Jan. 20: After losing to a dreadful Detroit team on the road, the banged-up Celtics began to look old and possibly disinterested.

Jan. 31: Capping off three straight heartbreaking defeats against the best teams in the NBA, the Celtics collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Lakers.

Feb. 10: The All-Star break can’t come soon enough as the Celts sleepwalk through a game with New Orleans.

Feb. 27: New Jersey.

March 14: One game removed from getting crushed by Memphis at home, the Celtics can’t keep up with the Cavaliers.

Here they are, back from the dead again, winners of four straight and a Texas sweep. The Celtics defy easy characterization, or maybe they just enjoy making things hard on themselves. Either way, no mater how things turn out in the final month of the regular season, we really will have no idea how they are going to perform once the playoffs start.

They have shown just enough life to encourage optimism among the constant pessimism of the last half of the season, but we really won’t know just how good this team really is until May at the earliest.

CELTICS (45-24, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.8

Points Allowed: 94.1

Differential: +4.7 (8th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.3 (14th)

Defensive Efficiency: 102.2 (1st)

Pace: 91.7 (21st)

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

Injuries: None.

JAZZ (45-25, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 103.6

Points Allowed: 98.0

Differential: 5.6 (4th)

Offensive Efficiency: 110.8 (6th)

Defensive Efficiency: 104.8 (10th)

Pace: 93.2 (12th)

Likely Starters: Deron Williams, Wes Matthews, C.J. Miles, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur (Flu, Questionable)

Injuries: Andrei Kirilenko (Strained calf, Doubtful)

Key Matchup: Carlos Boozer vs. Kevin Garnett

It’s likely Kendrick Perkins will draw this matchup, but whoever draws Boozer will be getting one of the best 4′s in the league right now. Still just 28 years old, and in a contract year, Boozer went from persona non grata status in Utah to possible franchise cornerstone. Over the summer, Boozer tried to talk his way out of town, playing up trade rumors to Chicago and Miami in various media interviews, but what he lacks in tact he makes up for in game. It hasn’t changed all that much–pick and pop jump shots and pick and roll straight lines to the basket–but it has returned to his previous level of production.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: The last time Ray Allen played more than 36 minutes was late February against the Knicks. The last time Paul Pierce did so was Feb. 18 against the Lakers. Over the final month of the season, Doc Rivers has done a fine job of managing minutes for the Celtics veterans and utilizing his bench, which has been fortified with the additions of Nate Robinson and Michael Finley. It will be interesting to see if Rivers sticks with a 10-man rotation once the playoffs start, but for now he finally has the ability to sit his starters for regular rest and feel good about it.

The Jazz in a Paragraph: The Jazz do just about every important thing well. They shoot a high percentage, get to the free throw line, rebound well and force turnovers. The one thing they struggle with, like the Celtics, is turnovers. It’s a classic Jerry Sloan-coached team. What’s amazing about this particular version of the Jazz is that they have traded Ronnie Brewer and promising point guard Eric Maynor for financial relief and simply plugged in the gaps with the rookies like Wes Matthews and Sundiata Gaines. Since Jan. 17, the Jazz have won 21 of 28 games and look as dangerous as any other team in the West.

What to Watch For: It’s the third game of a four-day road trip, so energy will be an issue for the Celtics and the fact that the Jazz are simply really good, especially at home where they are 28-8. This should be a terrific matchup of two quality teams playing their best basketball down the stretch.

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