Game On: Hornets @ Celtics

Published: December 31, 2010

A team with a seven game road losing streak travels to the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but all might not be lost. For starters, Kevin Garnett is not going to play and Rajon Rondo is questionable. Even if Rondo can go, he should be rusty and likely won’t get his usual minutes. Doc Rivers said his ankle is quite swollen and he is going to be cautious with him moving forward. A glimmer of hope can also be found in the knowledge that Boston has lost two of its last three after winning 14 in a row.

With all that said, the Celtics will still be favored, and rightly so. They come into the game leading the league in both points allowed and assists. The fact that they lead the league in assists is even more remarkable when you consider the fact that they are only 15th in the league in scoring at 99.5 PPG. As a team they shoot over 50% from the field and get the most out of every possession, while their defense rotates with amazing precision.

Garnett does effect a lot of what Boston does on defense as evidenced by the fact that the team gives up nearly 9 more points per game in the contests that he has missed over the last three years. Garnett is the last line of defense around the rim and he is also extremely vocal in calling out rotations, so there is a chance that the Hornets can have some success in Boston on the offensive end of the court.


Point Guard: Chris Paul vs. Rajon Rondo

Advantage: Hornets

Call it a hunch, but I think Rondo is going to play today. Garnett is out and the Celtics have lost 2 of 3, and the Hornets always seem to have a guy returning from injury play against them. If Rondo does play, he should still be slowed by an ankle that Doc (and the doc) says is quite swollen. Rondo sprained his ankle December 15th against the Knicks and according to Rivers, it swells up every time he works out.

If he can go, this should be a great matchup as Rondo has carried his amazing 2010 playoff performance into this regulars season, averaging 11 points, nearly 14 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game on 53% shooting from the field. Granted, he is still awful from three and from the free throw line (31 % and 43% respectively) but the guy was a legitimate MVP candidate and a sure-fire All-Star before the injuries.

And let us not forget the last time these two teams met in Boston, when Chris Paul apparently had to be held back from going into the Celtics locker room after the game. Apparently Rondo was talking trash during the game about how CP3 was overrated and he would never get a ring. Chris Paul missed the next game due to injury, so this will be the first time the two have seen each other on the court since that incident.

Shooting Guard: Marco Belinelli vs. Ray Allen

Advantage: Celtics

People have been expecting a decline from Ray Allen for a few years now, and it has still yet to come. When the Celtics acquired Allen and Garnett before the ’07-’08 season, the Celtics were said to have a two year window by most “experts” due to their age. And yet here we are in the 4th year and somehow none of them appear to be slowing down, as Allen is logging nearly 37 minutes a game and is having his best season from deep (41.5%) since ’01-’02.

With KG out, look for Allen to pick up a lot of the scoring slack, as he did in that memorable playoff series against the Bulls in 2009. In that series, Allen averaged over 27 PPG, including a 51 point performance and two game-winning shots. It just shows that when fully healthy, the Celtics spread the wealth, but if he needs to, Ray Allen could go off at any time.

Marco on the other hand has been horrible of late and the recipe for a struggling player to cure himself is not the Boston Celtics. Their guards and forwards rotate as if they are on a string and Belinelli will be hard pressed to get to the rim tonight for an easy bucket. Therefore, he will have to rely on others getting him open shots from deep, but can he convert those? Belinelli is 18 out of 60 (30%) in December from behind the arc. Perhaps the banner from Dariusz Ejkiewicz will help.

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Paul Pierce

Advantage: Celtics

Paul Pierce is exactly the kind of player that Trevor Ariza was brought in to defend. Pierce relies on jab steps and pump fakes to get space for his jump shot, and Ariza’s length should be able to counter those moves if he stays on the floor. Pierce also has a tendency to overdribble (especially if Rondo is not on the floor) and since he doesn’t have a blow-by type of first step, Ariza should be able to pressure the ball when it is in Pierce’s hands and force it out.

On the offensive end, I just don’t know anymore with Trevor. He is 100% a confidence player, as you can clearly see a different swagger after he has made a spectacular play or a couple shots in a row. The problem is that, like my fiancee in Call of Duty, he has a hard enough time getting one- much less going on a streak. Ariza has been just awful in December, shooting 34% from the field (yet he is still taking over 10 shots per game!!!), 15% from three, and averaging over 2 turnovers per game.

If the Hornets get anything from Ariza offensively this game, I will consider it a cherry on top. If not, and if this continues, I fully expect Monty to experiment with bringing Ariza off the bench even if the Hornets do not acquire another small forward. Q-Pon or even Willie Green can’t do much worse.

Power Forward: David West vs. Big Baby Davis

Advantage: Hornets

Kevin Garnett haunts David West’s dreams but if West can go today, he won’t have to face K.G., M.D. (I refer to him as a doctor, because apparently he can diagnose cancer patients). Instead, West will go up against local favorite Glen “Big Baby” Davis in a matchup of a guy who cries after every bucket he scores (And One!!) versus a guy who cries on the bench after not making a bucket.

This will be Davis’s first start, but he has been getting 30 minutes per game as the first one off the bench for Boston, so it shouldn’t be a big adjustment for the LSU alum, who is averaging 12 and 6. Davis will have nearly 45 pounds on D West, which should force him outside, where he can use his quickness. So expect some iso wing plays for West early and often.

Center: Emeka Okafor vs. Shaquille O’Neal

Advantage: Hornets

This is where Boston actually suffers the most from the loss of KG. Yes, O’Neal starts, but the majority of the game is a KG/Big Baby combo up front, with O’Neal just getting spot minutes. Now, Shaq, Luke Harangody, and Jermaine O’Neal will all get increased minutes and Garnett won’t be there to clean up their defensive mistakes.

Shaq should be able to take Okafor into the low block early and overwhelm him, but The Diesel just can’t play 30-35 minutes anymore and over time Okafor should win this matchup. I actually expect the Celtics to play a lot of small ball, with Davis manning the center position for most of the night. From there it will be an interesting battle between Okafor’s strength and Big Baby’s sheer will on the boards.

Bench: Jarrett Jack, Marcus Thornton, Q-Pon, Jason Smith vs. Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Marquis Daniels, Jermaine O’Neal

Advantage: Celtics

If Rondo starts, then Robinson moves back to the bench and gives the Celtics an explosive element off the pine. Daniels and Wafer have also had their moments this year and O’Neal can still show signs of life in small spurts. Really, though, the Celtics win this match-up by default, as the Hornets bench has been non-existent of late on the road. Mark my words, for the Hornets to win this game, one of these guys will have to step up BIG.

Other News and Notes:

– Since November 22nd, the Celtics are 15-2 and the Hornets are 7-13.

– The Celtics are 112-44 with Garnett and 24-14 without since he arrived.

– Hornets have lost their last three at Boston- all by double digits.

– Hornets have only scored 100 points or more 3 times in their last 20 games.

– Monty says that even if Willie Green is with the team on this current two game road trip, he does not not know if he will play right away. Perhaps Monty will save Green’s return for their next home game, Monday against his old squad, Philadelphia.


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