Celtics Host Hornets in Afternoon Affair

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Boston Celtics (24-6) vs. New Orleans Hornets (18-14)

Friday, December 31, 2010

3:00pm

TV: Comcast SportsNet [] Radio: WEEI

Location: TD Garden - Boston, Massachusetts

Game Thread [] Chat Room

Update on Rondo: Okay, despite conflicting reports a few moments ago, it has now been confirmed that Rajon Rondo will not play today against the New Orleans Hornets. 

Seeking to respond after a messy loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday evening, the Boston Celtics will welcome in the Chris Paul-led New Orleans Hornets today at 3:00pm.

For the first time this season the Celtics will be without power forward and defensive anchor Kevin Garnett, who suffered a strained right calf in the first quarter against the Pistons on Wednesday. 

We might also be denied one of the better point guard matchups of the season today, as Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is listed as questionable, as he continues to work his way back from ankle, hamstring, and foot injuries. Paul and Rondo - two of the NBA's premiere point guards - have gone at each other hard in the past, including last year's bout on November 1, in which both earned technical fouls after clashing briefly under the basket in the second quarter. When the game was over, Rondo and Paul exchanged words as their respective teams were making their ways to the locker rooms. 

But besides their own personal feuds of the past, it would just be a great treat for fans to see two great point guards go head-to-head this afternoon. However, that all depends on the physical state Rondo is currently in. I'll post updates on Rondo's status as they become available closer to game-time. 

The Hornets were one of the league's hottest teams at the start of the season, winning eight straight games to start the year, and 11 of their first 12. So far in the month of December, however, the Hornets are just 6-9, and have gone only 2-5 against teams that are over .500. Additionally, the Hornets are 0-6 on the road so far in December, with losses at Philadelphia, Detroit, Indiana, and Minnesota on their resume. 

Currently, the Hornets are ranked 20th in the league in offensive efficiency (102.2 points per 100 possessions), but a much better 7th in defensive efficiency (99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). 

Chris Paul is currently averaging 16.6 points and 2.78 steals in addition to 9.8 assists per game - good for third in the NBA behind both Rondo and Steve Nash

Projected Starters 

Celtics: Nate Robinson (if Rondo doesn't play), Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, and Shaquille O'Neal

Hornets: Chris Paul, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, David West, and Emeka Okafor

Injuries

For the Celtics, center Kendrick Perkins (knee), forward Kevin Garnett (calf), and guard Delonte West (wrist) are all out, while center Semih Erden (flu) and guard Rajon Rondo (ankle, hamstring, foot) are listed as questionable. 

For the Hornets, Pops Mensah-Bonsu (elbow) is out, while forward David West (ankle) is listed as questionable. 

Who's Hot

For the Celtics, Paul Pierce scored a season-high 33 points against the Pistons on Wednesday.

For the Hornets, Chris Paul totaled 20 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. 

Who's Not

For the Celtics, Glen Davis shot 6-15 from the field against the Pistons on Wednesday.

For the Hornets, Marco Belinelli hit only 4 of 16 shots against the Lakers on Wednesday.

Key Matchup

If Rondo plays, the matchup lies at the point guard spot between him and Paul. However, if Rondo is out, keep an eye on the matchups between Paul Pierce and Trevor Ariza, along with Shaquille O'Neal and Emeka Okafor in the middle. 

Skinny

The Celtics will have to do their best to contain Chris Paul this afternoon, which might be much more difficult if Rondo doesn't play, as Robinson might have trouble defending him. Paul's clearly one of the best in the league at getting his teammates involved, but he's also readily capable of creating his own shot and scoring on his own. Paul, however, has only notched double digits in assists in two of his last five games. 

Without Garnett in the line-up, we'll get our first glance of how well the Celtics can operate defensively without him. The Hornets have two capable big men in Okafor and West, who could pose something of a challenge to O'Neal and Davis inside. Fortunately, Davis is versatile enough to stick with West, who's a reliable jump shooter along the perimeter. 

Look for Pierce to drive the team today with Garnett out, much the way he did on Wednesday in Detroit after Garnett left the game, particularly in the fourth quarter. Ray Allen should have an advantage over Belinelli along the perimeter, and the C's should run him through some O'Neal and Davis-sized screens early on. The C's should also look to feed Shaq the ball early on, to help him re-establish a needed rhythm, as he's struggled his last three games. 

Also, keep an eye on the bench's production today, as taking Glen Davis away from it (due to the absence of Garnett) could hinder it's effectiveness. 

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