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Preview: Celtics-Nuggets

03.24.10 at 10:58 am ET

In some ways, the Denver Nuggets are the Bizarro World version of the Celtics. The Nuggets win games with their offense, and their defense is just good enough to be able to do it at a very high level. Their offensive attack has balance between shooting 3-pointers and scoring inside, and they live at the free throw line, where the lead the league in attempts.

When the Nuggets are clicking, as they were in the first quarter in their earlier meeting with the Celtics, they can be devastating. Carmelo Anthony and his 29 points a game get a lot of attention, but Chauncey Billups is having a career season in terms of shooting efficiency and J.R. Smith remains one the of the league’s great X-factors.

As the Celtics begin a stretch of six straight home games against some of the best teams in the league, this is perhaps the most compelling matchup they will face.

CELTICS (45-25, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.8

Points Allowed: 94.4

Differential: +4.4 (9th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.2 (14th)

Defensive Efficiency: 102.4 (1st)

Pace: 91.7 (20th)

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

Injuries: None.

NUGGETS (47-24, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 107.5

Points Allowed: 102.4

Differential: 5.1 (6th)

Offensive Efficiency: 112.4 (2nd)

Defensive Efficiency: 107.0 (15th)

Pace: 95.1 (12th)

Likely Starters: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, Joey Graham, Carmelo Anthony, Nene

Injuries: Kenyon Martin (Knee), Ty Lawson (Shoulder, Questionable)

Key Matchup: Kendrick Perkins vs. Nene

With Kenyon Martin out of the lineup, the Nuggets have elected to go small with their starting five and have moved Anthony to the four-spot. This leaves Nene as their lone inside presence and he has put together a fantastic season. Nene’s game is all power, which plays right into Perkins’ hands on the defensive end. Denver’s array of offensive talent makes guarding their complimentary players a challenge and Perkins needs to keep Nene in check.

The Nuggets in a Paragraph: For all their success, the Nuggets are still seen as a fragile team. Billups, obviously helps in that regard, but they have also been without coach George Karl and he undergoes treatment for cancer and they are coming off a bad loss to the Knicks. They have the talent and experience to reach the NBA Finals, but it also wouldn’t be a shock if they lost in the first round of the playoffs. The West is that strong and the Nuggets are that flighty.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: In a season of tests the Celtics begin their final regular season exam tonight. They have not played well at home this season and this is a chance to build some momentum at the Garden. They have struggled with elite team and this stretch will give them games against some of the best in the league. If they are serious about finishing the regular season on a positive note, this is the perfect opportunity.

What to Watch For: Denver lives on energy and runs. Much of that comes from their second unit, particularly Smith and Chris Andersen, the erstwhile Birdman. Andersen may look ridiculous, but if he takes flight he can completely change the game with his ability to block shots and attack the offensive glass. The Celtics bench has played well, of late. They will need to match Denver’s energy and prevent any such outbursts.

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