Game Preview: Nets at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The schedule has been very forgiving for the Boston Celtics (3-3) in 2012, and that trend will continue tonight when they host a struggling New Jersey Nets (1-4) team at 7:30 p.m. in TD Garden.

It may be early in the season, but these two teams are heading in opposite directions. Boston is riding a three-game winning streak as they head into tonight’s contest, while New Jersey has dropped its last five contests by an average of 17.8 PPG.

The Celtics and Nets are also at opposite ends of the Atlantic Division standings. Boston’s streak has vaulted them back to the top of the division and New Jersey’s has dropped them to the bottom.

Boston’s season began with three straight losses, but all of those came without the services of captain Paul Pierce. The Celtics have not lost a game since his return on Dec. 30. Pierce is still shaking off the rust, but that hasn’t prevented him from averaging 14.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 4.0 APG during his team’s winning streak.

Per usual, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo have also been huge contributors to the Celtics’ current streak.

Allen is coming off of a 27-point outburst against the Wizards on Monday. He drilled six of his seven 3-point attempts in the game and is shooting 61.1 percent from downtown on the season. Allen leads Boston in scoring with an average of 20.0 PPG.

Rondo was the team’s leading scorer early in the season but he has since returned to his main job: distributing the basketball. He ranks second in the league in assists with 10.5 per game, and he’s also filling up the rest of the box score with 16.5 PPG and 6.0 RPG.

That trio of All-Stars is playing at a high level and Kevin Garnett is slowly warming up. That group, as well as the rest of the Celtics, is coming off of a full day of rest (no travel, no practice) for the first time this season. That can’t be a good sign for the Nets tonight.

New Jersey will be playing with a depleted roster tonight that will be missing Deron Williams (bruised ribs), Brook Lopez (foot surgery), and possibly Kris Humphries (shoulder strain). If all three players don't play tonight, the Nets would be missing their top scorer and assist man, their top rebounder and their top low post scoring presence.

Williams is New Jersey’s leading scorer, but he will be replace tonight by rookie MarShon Brooks, who is second on the team in scoring with 13.7 PPG. Brooks was acquired from the Celtics in a draft-day trade and will be making his first start tonight.

Without many of their top players tonight, the Nets will be heading into a tough situation tipping off against the red-hot Celtics. New Jersey might be in for a long season, and if the Celtics have their way tonight, the Nets will be in for a long game, too.

Contain the Rook

Brooks has gotten off to quite a start to his NBA career and is coming off of his best performance of the season Monday night. He tied his career high against the Pacers with 21 points and also set a new high mark with seven rebounds.

Avery Johnson said this morning that Brooks will be replacing Williams, who has been ruled out. Brooks stands at 6-foot-5, which is very tall for the point guard position. He's also more of a scorer than an assist man, so don't look for a typical point guard game out of him.

Without Williams, Lopez and probably Humphries, the Nets will be relying on Brooks to carry the load offensively. That's a lot to ask out of a rookie, particularly in his first game against the Boston Celtics.

Second Unit Time?

Basically every team that has played against the Nets this season has blown them out of the water. There’s no reason why the Celtics shouldn’t continue that trend tonight, and that means that the second unit should have plenty of time on the court.

Boston’s starters have been together for a long time now so it’s pretty easy for them to get on the same page. The second unit, however, which consists of four new Celtics, can’t make the same claim.

The team’s last three wins have come in pretty convincing fashion, but a blowout tonight would be fantastic for this second unit. It would allow the group to log lots of minutes on the court together, and nothing will help them mesh together better than that.

Continue the Defensive Growth

We all know that Boston considers itself a defensive team, but that didn’t show during the team’s first three games of the season. Since that slow start, none of the Celtics’ opponents have scored more than 92 points in a game.

The staunch defense that the C’s have become known for seems to be filtering through the entire team. Without a true training camp and preseason, Boston’s new acquisitions weren’t provided ample amount of time to learn the defensive system. It looks as if the entire team is on board now.

Boston has limited its opponent to 43.0 percent shooting or less in its last three contests, and the bench has been even better than that. The benches of the last three opponents have shot a combined 35.9 percent from the field.

That type of overall team defense will win games on a consistent basis in the NBA. Doc Rivers and his staff must love the growth they’ve seen out of their defense, and they’ll hope it will continue tonight.