|Preview: Celtics at Raptors, Game 32||01.02.11 at 10:23 am ET|
After Sunday’s game with Toronto, the Celtics play nine of their next 10 in Boston. It’s a weird quirk in the schedule that sends them to Canada before their homestand, and it’s either a chance to get things back on the track after losing three of four or a potential landmine that will continue their struggles.
The defensively-challenged Raptors may be just what the Celtics need to snap them out of their offensive malaise. Toronto has won just three times in their last 13 games and, like the Celtics, they are dealing with a number of injuries.
Power forward Reggie Evans has been out since November after breaking his foot. Andrea Bargnani has missed five of the last seven games games with a calf strain. Sonny Weems missed their last game against Houston with back spasms and Jerryd Bayless left the Rockets game after eight minutes with an ankle sprain.
The injuries have given rookie Ed Davis a chance to play meaningful minutes and he responded with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a win over the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks, but the Raptors are in rough shape.
The Celtics may get Rajon Rondo back, but that is uncertain at best. Still, they have plenty of healthy talent to deal with Toronto, provided they are in the right mental shape.
[Boston at Toronto, Sunday, Jan. 2, 6 p.m. TV: CSN. Radio coverage on WEEI begins at 5;30 p.m.]
Offensive Rating: 107.9 (Points per 100 possessions, 11th)
Defensive Rating: 99.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 1st)
Pace: 90.8 (Possessions per game, 23rd)
Likely Starters: Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal
Injuries: Rajon Rondo (Ankle, questionable), Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).
Offensive Rating: 106.5 (14th)
Defensive Rating: 110.6 (27th)
Pace: 94.7 (6th)
Likely Starters: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Joey Dorsey, Amir Johnson
Injuries: Andrea Bargnani (Calf, questionable), Jerryd Bayless (Ankle, questionable), Sonny Weems (Back, questionable), Peja Stojakovic (Knee, out), Reggie Evans (Foot, out).
KEY MATCHUP: Ray Allen vs. DeMar DeRozan
In his second season, DeRozan has upped his scoring average from 8.6 to 13.8 points per game, which looks nice but is mostly the result of playing more minutes. Overall, DeRozan hasn’t made a huge jump but he has shown flashes of brilliance such as his 23-point outburst against the Lakers and a 37-point performance against Houston in Toronto’s last game.
If Bargnani can’t play, DeRozan becomes the focal point of Toronto’s attack. Allen has kept him in check in their two previous meetings this season holding him to just 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
THREE PLOT POINTS
1. Can the Celtics bounce back?
They have played some ugly basketball over the last few weeks, even before they started losing games. Better ball movement would be a nice start as the Celtics have gone from a fluid, spread-the-wealth team to a one-pass-and-shoot squad. That has been most evident in the 3-point shooting where the Celtics have made 40 percent or better of their attempts just twice since Rondo went out of the lineup.
2. How much will Jermaine O’Neal have after playing 33 minutes Friday?
Doc Rivers never intended to play O’Neal that much in just his fourth game back after missing 19 games with a knee injury, but Rivers stuck with him for 16 straight minutes to close the game. It was O’Neal’s best performance of the season, and while his offense will come around in time, he showed the kind of rebounding and shot-blocking presence that the Celtics have been waiting for.
3. Will Rondo play?
Rondo tried to give it a a go against the Hornets Friday, but after warming up before the game he felt like he wasn’t back to full speed yet. Rondo desperately wants to get back on the court, but after the game, he sounded resigned to the possibility that it may take him a little longer to return to the lineup.
Considering the state of the Raptors, the Celtics may not need him Sunday. Either way, Rondo won’t play until he is ready and that is the correct decision, no matter how many games the Celtics have to struggle through this winter.
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