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Preview: Celtics at Trail Blazers, Game 45

01.27.11 at 11:18 am ET

You just can’t kill the Portland Trail Blazers. Greg Oden is out for the season, again, after knee surgery. Marcus Camby is out for three weeks after knee surgery. Brandon Roy had surgery on both his knees. On and on it goes for the most star-crossed franchise in the NBA who may never approach the greatness that was forecast for them following the 2009 season.

Yet, here they are again, clinging to the eighth spot in the Western Conference having won five of their last six games. Much of the credit for Portland’s still viable status belongs to forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has taken on a larger burden without Roy in the Blazers deliberate offense and scoring more inside.

Aldridge, Andre Miller, Wes Matthews and Nic Batum form the thrown-together core of this Blazers team and that’s enough talent to make them a tough out any night of the week.

The Celtics come to town tonight for the start of a four-game west coast trip and in many way, this is the pivotal game of the trip. They have a back-to-back with Phoenix Friday night and then the showdown with the Lakers on Sunday. The last thing the Celtics want is a losing streak heading into L.A.

CELTICS (34-10, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 109.1 (Points scored per 100 possessions, 10th)

Defensive Rating: 100.6 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 2nd)

Pace: 90.6 (Possessions per game, 22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden

Injuries: Shaquille O’Neal (Hip, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out).

TRAIL BLAZERS (25-21, 6-4 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 107.3 (14th)

Defensive Rating: 106.6 (15th)

Pace: 88.8 (30th)

Likely Starters: Andre Miller, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Pryzbilla

Injuries: Marcus Camby (Knee, out), Greg Oden (Knee, out), Brandon Roy (Knee, out), Elliot Williams (Knee, out), Aldridge (Hip, probable), Matthews (Hip, questionable).

KEY MATCHUP: Kevin Garnett vs. LaMarcus Aldridge

The Blazers live on the offensive glass, where they lead the league in offensive rebounding rate and Aldridge is their best offensive rebounder with Camby out. This figures to be a good test for Garnett who has yet to recapture his form on the boards since his return from a calf strain — he’s grabbed just 23 defensive rebounds on his five games.

With all the injuries Aldridge has become the focal point of the Portland offense and he has done more work in the post than in year’s past, which helps explain his career-high 21 points per game average. He and Garnett have had some good battles in the past.


1. Who can dictate pace?

The Blazers average fewer possessions than any team in the league, and while the Celtics don’t play that much faster they don’t want to get bogged down playing Portland’s game. The Celtics will look to run when the opportunity presents itself, but in order to do that they have to be strong on the glass.

2. How will Kendrick Perkins look in his second game back?

Now that the excitement over his return has faded, the next challenge for Kendrick Perkins is to continue building up his endurance and rhythm. Doc Rivers wants to keep him in the 16-18 minutes range for the next few games and it would help if Semih Erden doesn’t get into early foul trouble again. The Celtics are still shorthanded up front, but that shouldn’t be a reason to speed up Perkins’ role.

3. It’s All-Star night

The starters for the All-Star game will be announced before the game on TNT and if the latest round of voting holds, both Garnett and Rajon Rondo will not be among those named. It’s hard to argue with the alternatives — Amar’e Stoudemire and Derrick Rose — considering the time Rondo and Garnett missed with injuries. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Rondo came out with something to prove.

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