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Preview: Nets at Celtics

11.23.10 at 11:18 pm ET

The Celtics did their Bruce Banner Monday night on the Hawks, as in, “You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.” The question for the Celtics is how many nights can they rise to that level? How many games will it take for them to accomplish what they want out of the regular season?

The Heat’s early-season struggles have altered that equation a little bit. Not only because of their mounting losses, but also because they will be without Udonis Haslem for most, if not all, of the season and they are still missing Mike Miller.

Back in October it may have seemed like a fool’s errand, or a death wish, to ask the Celtics to keep pace with the Heat and Magic, but now the East seems wide open and with that comes the real possibility of gaining homecourt advantage in multiple rounds.

We bring all this up because the Celtics are beginning a three-game stretch of games against the Nets, Raptors and Cavaliers. There’s no reason the Celtics should lose any of these games, but then again two of their four losses have come against Toronto and Cleveland.

If they are going to win 60 games and compete for homecourt, these are the games they have to win and it wouldn’t hurt to do it convincingly. They probably don’t even need to be angry. Mildly annoyed should work just fine.

NEW JERSEY NETS (5-9, 3-7 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 104.2 (NBA rank: 22)

Defensive Rating: 107.9 (17)

Pace: 88.9 (30)

Likely starters: Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez

Injuries: Troy Murphy (Foot, questionable), Quinton Ross (Calf, questionable)

CELTICS  (10-4, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.6 (8)

Defensive Rating: 100.8 (4)

Pace: 90.6 (25)

Likely starters: Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Rajon Rondo (Hamstring, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out)

Key Matchup: Shaquille O’Neal vs. Brook Lopez

Lopez has apparently decided to become a jumpshooter, which is not a strong career move for a player who seemed on the verge of becoming an All-Star. Lopez went from taking the majority of his shots in the paint to various points beyond and his shooting numbers have dipped appropriately. Nets coach Avery Johnson recently called Lopez out for not being physical enough and he responded with a monster game against the Hawks Tuesday — 32 points and nine rebounds.

All of this raises an interesting matchup question for the Celtics. Ordinarily they would put Kevin Garnett on the other team’s most active perimeter big man, but Garnett would be giving up 40-50 pounds against Lopez. The other option is to have Shaq play Lopez on the outside in the pick and pop, pick and roll game and that’s not something the Celtics want to do. This is where they miss Jermaine O’Neal.


Forward Terrence Williams was suspended for two games by the team for violating team rules and was not with the team Tuesday night, at their request. The suspension carries over to tonight’s game with the Celtics. Avery Johnson told reporters, “It’€™s been something that we’€™ve dealt with for the past 2-3 weeks or so, and I don’€™t know if he clearly understands what we’€™re trying to do.”


Will the Celtics play down to their level of competition? The Nets aren’t very good, but they do have a handful of good players, such as Lopez and Devin Harris and a couple of good 3-point shooters in Anthony Morrow and Travis Outlaw. The Celtics want to establish their homecourt advantage, something they failed to do last season. That means beating the pulp out of the bad teams on their schedule and having them beat before they even show up to the Garden. That means winning games like this.

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