Here are ten things to watch for tonight as the Boston Celtics take on the Philadelphia 76ers in game six of the preseason:
1. What types of "small-ball" lineups are utilized: Philadelphia has lots of length on their roster, but they are very "thin" without a true center. This is a good opportunity for Brad Stevens to match their size and employ a "small lineup." Look for Jeff Green to play more power forward than he did in his preseason debut on Wednesday. Boston will likely try to stretch Nerlens Noel to the perimeter and take advantage of Green's speed difference. Going small could also give the Celtics one of their more ferocious defensive lineups, one that could feature Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Evan Turner as the perimeter defenders. Look for the Celtics to play aggressively with this lineup.
2. Tyler Zeller's minutes and production: Stevens announced before Wednesday's game that Kelly Olynyk has almost certainly carved out a spot as a starter. He has made significant strides as a defender, most notably his lateral quickness, and he also has progressed as an offensive threat. However, that doesn't mean Tyler Zeller couldn't take the other starting frontcourt role. He had a terrific game on Wednesday and the eye-test says that the defense is superior with him on the court. Zeller had three blocks in only 18 minutes, but it may be his communication and rotations that win him the starting gig over Jared Sullinger.
3. How Brad Stevens uses rotations and lineups: This week is important for Stevens to establish a set rotation and we began to see the makings of it on Wednesday night. However, this is night two, so establishing some consistency will be crucial for Stevens to accomplish his "role goals." Stevens has been employing early subs; last night at the mid-way of the first quarter he substituted in Marcus Smart and Brandon Bass for Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner. He repeated that in the third quarter, but Sullinger went to the bench instead of Olynyk. If Stevens rolls with that, we should expect a similar game flow as we saw last night.
4. Jeff Green's ability to bounce-back from a poor performance: Green shot 3-for-12 on Wednesday and looked tentative at many points during the game, which is understandable since it was first chance at live action this season. When asked after the game how it felt to blend in with the new players, he said, "I didn't want to blend in; I wanted to stand out." Watch for Stevens to put Green in matchups that allow him to flourish in a number of different ways, whether it's on the low post or on the perimeter.
5. Dwight Powell's role and opportunity: Dwight Powell has a real strong change of making this roster. He is a versatile forward who played four successful collegiate seasons with Stanford, and could actually end up having a better pro career. Powell's unique skillset and length allows him to play both forward spots and with some added weight, maybe even some center. However, taking advantage of his minutes on the court would ease any concerns the Celtics have about him, so tonight could play a part in determining his chances of making the final 15-man roster.
6. How the deep bench performs: Since it's a back-to-back for Boston, many of the reserves will likely play throughout the fourth quarter, which leaves the first half and parts of the third period for analysis of the "top ten." However, the deep bench is still important. Questions to ask yourself can include: Which of these players could fit into Boston's system down the line? Are any of these players this year's Chris Johnson or Chris Babb? Are any of them truly worth keeping around in Maine? So far, no one has stood out, but tonight they could receive a real opportunity against Philadelphia's paltry roster.
7. Marcus Smart should dial up the intensity: Smart has not been a disappointment on the defensive end of the floor, as he has made a big play in nearly every game this preseason. The season hasn't even started, but he is already looking like Boston's best rookie defender since Marcus Banks once shined on the parquet floor as a young player. However, Smart does need to start showing something on the offensive end. His shot isn't falling and he has been sloppy driving to the rim. It's not that this is surprising -- he will likely struggle on offense the entire year -- but it'd be nice to see him attack the rim relentlessly. He is capable of getting there and he needs the real-time reps in order to get adjusted to the speed of the NBA.
8. The help defense must continue to improve: The Celtics have been up-and-down on the defensive end of the floor so far this preseason, as they have really struggled at some points and shined in others. The frontcourt combination of Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger does not appear to be a good one when it comes to defense, but neither are any of the others unless a true center like Tyler Zeller or Joel Anthony is on the floor. That means the help defense needs to be sound, as they look to mesh as one collective unit.
9. Evan Turner's continued emergence: Turner may have gotten ejected from Wednesday's night game, but he still posted an impressive line of 11 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. In five preseason games, he now has per 36 averages of 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. With a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Turner can continue to improve on his efficiency, but his numbers could be even better if his teammates were hitting open three-pointers. Against his former team, Philadelphia, watch for him to continue to establish himself as one Boston's starting point guard, until Rajon Rondo returns from injury.
10. If Joel Anthony has a real spot on this roster: Brad Stevens says he'd like to go small more often this season and Danny Ainge has hinted that he'd like the team to hold onto Vitor Faverani. What does that mean for Joel Anthony? Well, it's not good. He has been active in only two of the five preseason games, playing for only 30 minutes, so it's possible the Celtics are just saving him for a trade. With five bigs ahead of him on the depth chart, it won't be easy for Anthony to make this team, and it might not even make much sense to keep him either.