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Preview Game 48: Winning the trip

02.01.11 at 10:49 am ET

And now for the inevitable letdown. The Celtics proved their point Sunday afternoon in Los Angles with their emphatic win over the Lakers. Tuesday night in Sacramento figures to be a whole different kind of challenge.

The Celtics have already had a successful west coast trip in many respects. They did what they had to do in splitting their first two games — their trouble in back-to-backs notwithstanding — and their win over the Lakers will resonate. Still, a loss to the Kings would be a serious downer after all the strides this team has made.

It would be unwise for the Celtics to take them lightly because the Kings are playing good basketball right now. They won at Portland and followed that up by beating the Lakers in L.A. and knocking off the Hornets at home. The Celtics rolled the Kings back in Boston, but that was without Tyreke Evans. The Kings remain a young, unpredictable squad who will get on the offensive glass and try to play up-tempo.

This is all about business for the Celtics tonight, and if they care of it, they’ll come back to Boston with momentum heading into a huge 10-day stretch that will have them play the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat.

CELTICS (36-11, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.3 (Points per 100 possessions, 11th)

Defensive Rating: 100.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Glen Davis (Hamstring, probable), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out).

KINGS (12-33, 4-6 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 102.9 (25th)

Defensive Rating: 107.9 (16th)

Pace: 93.6 (9th)

Likely Starters: Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, Carl Landry, DeMarcus Cousins

Injuries: Jason Thompson (Ankle, doubtful), Francisco Garcia (Calf, questionable)

KEY MATCHUP: Ray Allen vs. Tyreke Evans

Tyreke Evans has had something of a sophomore slump as a follow-up to his Rookie of the Year campaign. Evans came into the league as a misfit point guard, whose play forced Kevin Martin out of town. But Evans isn’t really a point guard in the traditional sense. For lack of a better term he’s a lead guard.

That Evans doesn’t fit into a traditional structure isn’t the issue. The issue is that he’s shooting barely over 40 percent and hasn’t developed a consistent jump shot to go with his bull runs to the basket. Still, at 6-foo-6 and 220 pounds Evans is a handful. Ray Allen will draw the assignment and his defensive job is to keep Evans out of the paint as much as possible.

On the other end, Allen will try to run Evans around screens all game long. Against a team like the Kings, the Celtics want to make them defend longer into the shot clock and not settle for contested jumpers. Allen is the key to that attack.


1. Energy and effort

If the Celtics bring the proper focus, they’ll come home with everything they wanted out of this trip. If not, they’ll have to grind it out. It’s up to them.

2. Boogie vs. Perk

DeMarcus Cousins continues to be a boom-or-bust rookie. He had 52 points and 22 rebounds in his last two games against the Hornets and Lakers. He also fouled out in 20 minutes against the Bobcats. This will be a good test for Kendrick Perkins, who has continued his strong comeback from knee surgery.

3. Rondo watch

Rajon Rondo had the half of his life against the Lakers Sunday, which helped make up for two lackluster performances against the Blazers and Suns. But Rondo has been rather ordinary for the last two weeks. The final step in his development is to bring consistency every night, especially on nights when he isn’t matched up against an elite point guard.

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