After a successful home-and-home with Toronto, the next four days will be focused on another mini-series with the New Jersey Nets. The C's will get a much-needed two days off before squaring off at the IZOD Center on Saturday afternoon, but first, the division rival will be hosted by the green at the TD BankNorth Garden tonight.
Heading into the 2008-2009 NBA season, nearly every analyst, writer, and basketball die-hard had New Jersey pegged as one of the league's worst teams. Some even went as far as pre-ranking them dead last in the Eastern Conference. Thirty-eight games into the season, the Nets have proved many wrong, as they currently stand seventh in the East with a respectable .500 record (19-19).
Vince Carter has had himself a solid year up to this point, but "Vinsanity" is no longer the talk of the team. Those reigns have shifted over to soon-to-be 26-year-old point guard Devin Harris, who came out of the gate red hot and appears to be a shoe-in for the league's Most Improved Player of the Year award. Harris' scoring averaged has jumped from 14.8 to 22.9, to go along with a +0.9 improvement in assists per game (5.8 to 6.7) and a career-best 83.4% clip from the free throw line. And he defends. Many consider him the best active point guard in the Eastern Conference, and while he rolls with a score-first mentality, it's difficult to argue with that this season.
Rookie center Brook Lopez has also been a big (no pun intended) bright spot for Lawrence Frank this season. The majority of mock drafts had the better half of the Lopez twin combo being selected in the top five, and a few even had Minnesota flirting with him at third overall. For whatever reason, the fundamentally sound seven-footer fell right into the laps of New Jersey at 10th overall.
Starting from day one, he hasn't disappointed, as he's held season averages of 10.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and two blocks per game. Since the new year, however, it has been more like 13 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 2.2 BPG. In addition to that, this is a seven footer with a shooting touch. It's very difficult to find a center that can shoot 80% or better from the free throw line. On the season, Lopez is shooting 80.5% from the line, and he's holding an ultra-impressive 87.5% clip through January's first six outings.
For the first time in a couple of years, the Nets appear to be on the right track with an array of promising young talent. They're playing halfway decent basketball, too.
PG SG SF PF C
PPG: Devin Harris (22.9)
RPG: Brook Lopez (8.2)
APG: Devin Harris (6.7)
SPG: Devin Harris (1.6)
BPG: Brook Lopez (2.0)
Nets X-Factor: Points Off Turnovers
It's pretty safe to say that one of Boston's main weaknesses stems on the offensive side of the ball: they struggle to take good care of the ball. As it currently stands, only the 6-33 Oklahoma City Thunder turn the ball over more than the defending champs, and that is one of the reasons up-tempo teams are able to give the C's a run for their money. With Vince Carter, Keyon Dooling, and Devin Harris, New Jersey has a chance to get out on the run and hurt the Celtics with gimme buckets. If that is taken away from Jersey, however, it could spell trouble.
PG SG SF PF C
PPG: Paul Pierce (19.5)
RPG: Kevin Garnett (9.2)
APG: Rajon Rondo (7.7)
SPG: Rajon Rondo (2.2)
BPG: Kendrick Perkins (1.8)
Celtics X-Factor: Defense
All of this team's success is predicated off of its defensive play. However, I'd be lying to you if I were to tell you that the 08-09 C's carry the same intensity as the 07-08 squad. At least not as frequently. Monday night's OT thriller against Toronto was a perfect example of that. To start the game, the D is solid. In the second and third quarters, it's rather "blah." In the fourth, it's as tight as it has been in a long time. In OT, they took care of business. What this teams needs to do is play 48 minutes of aggressive basketball. Not six or seven minute spurts here and there, because that is what has hurt them at times this season. The Nets can score the basketball. Step the D up, C's.
|2008 - Devin Harris||22.9||3.3||6.7|
|2008 - Rajon Rondo||10.8||4.8||7.7|
Yi Jianlian (broken right pinky - out)
Stromile Swift (sprained right ankle - out)
Kendrick Perkins (strained left shoulder - out)
Tony Allen (strained right ankle - out)
Keys to Victory
- 48-Minute Intensity
- Ball Movement
- Control the Glass