Last Sunday, the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers were both off to bumpy starts with 3-3 records, but entering today, Portland is flying high with a six-game winning streak, featuring victories against five potential playoff contenders. On the contrary, Boston had a maddening 1-4 week, with their only win coming against the tanking 76ers.
Though both teams are headed in the opposite direction, the Celtics and the Trail Blazers will collide tonight at 6 PM in TD Garden.
Boston will have their hands full on both ends of the floor, as Portland has the third-best offensive rating (108.7) in the NBA and the seventh-best defensive rating (99.5).
Led by power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having another All-Star caliber season, and Damian Lillard, who has somehow managed to raise his game to another level, Portland has a pick-and-roll attack as deadly as the western taipan snake.
The Celtics have struggled immensely containing the pick-and-roll this season, and will need to be on their A-game with intelligent rotations and sound communication, otherwise they will be hemorrhaged by Portland's venomous bite.
But Aldridge and Lillard aren't the only threats on the floor for the Blazers. They have a ton of terrific spot up shooters, which has often been the thorn in Boston's side this season, due to their sloppy help defense and rotations. The Celtics have allowed opponents to shoot 40.3 percent from three, the fourth-worst in the NBA.
If Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum begin to jack up wide-open three-pointers, shut your eyes, Celtics fans, because it won't be pretty. The name Anthony Morrow probably rings a bell, and a performance resembling anything close to that is bad news for Boston.
On the flip side, the Celtics could stone the Blazers by lighting them up with their seventh-ranked offense (106.2 offensive rating).
Even though Portland's defense has improved so far this season, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk could have strong games, as they should be able to stretch their frontcourt. Playing an inside-out game may also allow for easier penetration from the players like Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo, especially in the pick-and-roll and off of dribble-handoffs.
The Celtics have relied heavily on the three-pointer this season, which is an area Portland has stifled opponents. Teams have shot just 30.5 percent against the Blazers, the league's fourth-best mark. If the three-ball isn't falling for Boston, they had better dominate the battle on the boards, winning themselves second-chance opportunities.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Boston's bench is going to need to perform at a high level. The Blazers are going to score points with their starters, no matter the opponent, so the difference is going to have to be made up somewhere.
It would be beneficial for the Celtics to do what they can to try and unleash Marcus Thornton, by running set plays in the half court with the intentions of getting him the ball in his sweet spot. Thornton is overdue for an explosive game, with a season-high of just 13 points, and it couldn't come at a better time than against Portland.
Any team can win on any night in the NBA, but tonight's match against the Portland Trail Blazers will be among the most difficult tests of this young season for the Boston Celtics. They must perform at their optimal level, otherwise it'll be a long week of quiet self-reflection, film work, and practice, before the team has another tough weekend of home games versus Chicago and San Antonio.