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Celtics and Cavaliers Clash at the Garden

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

1:00pm

TV: ABC; Radio: WEEI

Venue: TD Garden

The Boston Celtics look to right the ship as the season winds down against the Cleveland Cavaliers today at 1:00pm.

Defense has been a key issue of late for the Celtics, as their last two opponents have both eclipsed the 100-point mark, and managed to shoot over 50 percent from the field and over 45 percent from three-point nation in the process. And now the C's have to deal with the Eastern Conference's, and quite possible the NBA's, best team, which is averaging 101.98 points per game.

Let's be honest: LeBron James is LeBron James and the probability of a team stopping him gets lower and lower which each season. He's a behemoth of a man and whoever the Celtics throw at him is pretty much bound to struggle at times. His 29.7 points per game average leads the NBA, and he also averages over seven rebounds and eight assists per game for good measure.

One bright spot for the Celtics in today's contest is the absence of Anderson Varejao for the Cavaliers. Varejao's wreaked pure havoc on Boston in the team's most recent two meetings, having averaged 15.5 points. 10.0 rebounds and 4.0 offensive rebounds. But even without Varejao the Cavs still rank among the league's best squads and it's never too late in the season to pick up a legitimate win over a quality team. Is today's game a must-win game, or even a statement game at this point? Probably not. But who doesn't want to see these Celtics perform well against one of the league's best, even this late in the season?

Projected Starters:
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Cavaliers: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson
Health Check: The Celtics are healthy.
For the Cavaliers, guard Sebastian Telfair (groin), center Shaquille O'Neal (thumb), and forward Anderson Varejao (hamstring) are all out.
Keep It In Mind: The Celtics have not defeated any of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference (Orlando, Cleveland, and Atlanta) since their Christmas Day win over the Magic.
Who's Not: For the Celtics, Paul Pierce scored 27 points on 9-14 shooting against the Rockets on Friday.
For the Cavaliers, Mo Williams shot 7-14 from the field and finished with 24 points in a win over the Hawks on Friday night.
Who's Not: For the Celtics, Ray Allen played just 16 minutes and took only two shots against the Rockets.
For the Cavaliers, Anthony Parker shot just 1-7 and finished with three points against Atlanta.
Key Matchup: Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James
Honorable Mention: Rajon Rondo vs. Mo Williams
Keys to the Game:
1) The Celtics were out-rebounded by a much smaller Houston squad, 41-35, on Friday night. The Cavs pose an even greater threat on the glass (42.64 rebounds per game), and Kevin Garnett, for one, will have to grab more than the mere three he pulled down against Houston. The C's only received a combined eight rebounds from Garnett and fellow starter Kendrick Perkins. If the C's can get a more concerted effort on the glass from those two, as well as a similar effort from Rasheed Wallace (eight rebounds against Houston), they should find themselves in much better shape.
2) Despite Rajon Rondo shattering both Rick Fox's single-season steals record, as well as Bob Cousy's single-season assist record, the production of the point guards he's gone up against in the past three games has been a big part of the Celtics' stumbles of late. George Hill put in 15 points, Russell Westbrook managed 21 points and 10 assists, and Aaron Brooks torched Rondo and the C's with 30 points. For all of the truly great things Rondo does on the court, Boston needs him to limit the productivity of the team's opposing point guard. He's certainly a good enough defensive player to make it happen, and I would love nothing more than to see Mo Williams shoot 2-10 from the floor with four or five turnovers today.