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Celtics Battle Hornets on Eve of All-Star Break

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

8:00pm

TV: Comcast SportsNet; Radio: WEEI

Venue: New Orleans Arena

With the All-Star break mere hours away, the Boston Celtics limp into New Orleans for a Wednesday night clash with the Chris Paul-less Hornets at 8:00pm.

The Celtics certainly didn't help their reputation for blowing big leads against elite teams on Sunday against the Magic, when they allowed Orlando to eclipse an 11-point halftime deficit, en route to a seven-point win. As a result, the uncertainties continue to loom for this team, but before the All-Star break and February 18 trading deadline answer many questions about what this team will look like for the remainder of the season, the C's need to get past this Hornets squad tonight.

All-Star point guard Chris Paul recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and he is still set to miss a number of weeks for the Hornets. His replacement though, rookie Darren Collison, has played well of late, averaging 22.6 points and 5.6 assists his last three games. Collison's quickness is one of his best assets, so keep an eye on his and Rajon Rondo's head-to-head matchup.

Paul's absence hasn't slowed New Orleans' offense, particularly in the month of February, as the Hornets are averaging 102.8 points per game over the first five games they've played this month. Unfortunately though, their defense has betrayed them, as they're just 1-4 in those five games. Along with Collison stepping up over the past three games, Peja Stojakovic has steadily contributed, averaging 23.3 points over that same span, while shooting 52.1 percent from three-point nation.

As reported on CelticsBlog earlier, Paul Pierce will play in tonight's game, despite being limited in practice on Monday. Pierce is still recovering from a left mid-foot sprain that he suffered against the Washington Wizards back on February 1.

Projected Starters:

Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Hornets: Darren Collison, Morris Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Emeka Okafor

Health Check: For the Celtics, J.R. Giddens (knee) is out.

For the Hornets, guard Chris Paul (knee) and forward Ike Diogu (knee) are both out, while guard Marcus Thornton (back) is listed as questionable.

Keep It In Mind: Emeka Okafor is averaging just five rebounds per game over his last three games.

Who's Hot: For the Celtics, Rajon Rondo shot 7-13 from the field, en route to 17 points against the Magic on Sunday.

For the Hornets, Peja Stojakovic scored 29 points on 11-18 shooting against the Magic on Monday.

Who's Not: For the Celtics, Kendrick Perkins took just three shots and scored just two points against the Magic on Sunday.

For the Hornets, Emeka Okafor was held scoreless in just nine minutes of action against the Magic on Monday.

Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo vs. Darren Collison

Honorable Mention: Kendrick Perkins vs. Emeka Okafor

Skinny: Despite Paul's absence, with guys like Peja Stojakovic and David West still scoring at will, the Hornets are still a team capable of putting up major points, so the Celtics' defense won't have the luxury of taking the night off. The Hornets are not a great rebounding team, either, as they sit 25th in the league with a 40.48 rebounds per game average. If Rajon Rondo can slow Collison and Stojakovic can be contained, all while handling the Hornets on the glass as a team, the Celtics should be able to escape the Big Easy with a win.