Game Preview: Mavericks at Celtics

VP, Digital Media
Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (4-4) will play host to the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks (5-5) at 8 p.m. tonight in TD Garden in a game that will be nationally broadcast on ESPN. It will be the first time a champion not named the Los Angeles Lakers visits the Garden in nearly four full years.

This contest features two potentially dominant teams looking to make another run at a championship this season; two teams that are better than their records would otherwise indicate.

The magic of Dallas’ championship run from a season ago has disappeared in the early portions of 2011-12. Like the Celtics, the Mavericks are hovering at the .500 mark and are attempting to integrate several new players to their system.

The magic of Dallas’ championship run from a season ago has disappeared in the early portions of 2011-12. Like the Celtics, the Mavericks are hovering at the .500 mark and are attempting to integrate several new players to their system.

“They made a lot of changes,” said Doc Rivers on Tuesday, “so what’s different with them is they don’t have the same rhythm yet that they had at the end of last year, and that’s not surprising.”

Some of that rhythm might be returning for the Mavericks thanks to a special trip to Washington, D.C.

Dallas’ players and coaches were welcomed on Monday at the White House for the NBA champion’s annual trip to meet the President. Barack Obama welcomed the group as they celebrated the franchise’s first title, and a moment like that can certainly play a role in bringing a team together.

That affect was noticed on Tuesday night in Detroit, where the Mavericks trampled the Pistons in a 100-86 blowout win. To put the game into perspective, the final 14-point advantage was not even close to an indication of how dominant Dallas was.

The Mavs led that game by as many as 28 points, and their starters were utterly unstoppable. None of Dallas’ starters played more than 28 minutes but all of them finished with a plus/minus rating of at least plus-22. Dirk Nowitzki played a team-high 27:54 and his plus/minus rating was plus-42.

The Pistons had no answer for Nowitzki and the Mavericks on Tuesday, but the Celtics hope to have one when the ball is tossed up tonight.

Boston is coming off of a demoralizing loss to the Pacers on Friday night, but they’ve had four days to recover from that defeat. Rivers gave the Celtics the entire weekend off before they hit the floor for two challenging practices over the past two days.

Players and coaches alike have said that those practices will go a long way toward getting the Celtics on track. They have won four of their past five games, but the team has been struggling offensively. Many of those struggles can be attributed to timing, which the C’s have been working on this week.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the timing: when you set screens, when you throw a lob, when you pass to guys,” captain Paul Pierce said on Tuesday. “That’s something we haven’t been able to do over the last couple of weeks. That’s why these practices are always good when we get a chance to get in here.”

Practice was especially important for the small forward position, where Pierce is working his way back from a heel injury and newcomer Mickael Pietrus is trying to integrate himself. With Marquis Daniels missing the past two days with an illness (he was at this morning's shootaround), Pietrus will be thrown into the fire as Pierce’s top backup. Boston’s newest swingman will also likely see minutes at shooting guard during his first game in green.

With two solid days of practice under their belts, Boston will take the court tonight looking to knock off the defending champs. This game may involve two .500 teams, but don’t let the records fool you. Both of these squads have a lot to offer, and they’ll try to show that off in front of a national audience tonight.

Top of Their Games

There’s a reason this game is on national television. The defending champs are taking on a team that has been a title contender for the past four seasons. You can almost guarantee that both teams will come out and play well tonight.

This game features a unique situation where one team (the Celtics) will be amped up to take down the reigning champions, and the other (the Mavericks) will be ready to beat a perennial powerhouse in its home arena. It’s the perfect storm for a great basketball game.

Both of these teams know how to take a team’s best punch, and that’s what Pierce said will happen tonight.

“It makes you rise to the occasion, and that’s what you want,” Pierce said of being the defending champs. “That’s the only way you become one of the best in the NBA. It makes you better as a unit when you’re taking everybody’s best punch. You just heard it in the hallway when we lost to Indiana how excited they were. We know that guys, when they come into the Garden, they’re going to get up for us.”

Defend 3-Point Line

Dallas is at its best when it’s making 3-pointers. Just ask the Miami Heat.

Pierce and the Celtics know that the Mavs thrive on their shooting from downtown, and that’s why Boston will put defending the 3-point line at the top of its priority list tonight.

“We’ve gotta defend the 3-point line,” Pierce said unequivocally. “We gotta do a good job of [defending] Dirk, also Jason Terry. Those guys can really get hot.”

The Mavericks have plenty of options from downtown in addition to Nowitzki and Terry. Vince Carter is making 40.0 percent of his 3s so far this season, and Rodrique Beaubois (33.3 percent) is shooting at a solid clip. We all know that Delonte West can hit the threeball, too. The C’s will need to have their guard up on the perimeter, or the Mavs will start raining 3s.

Rondo vs. Delonte

West served as Rajon Rondo’s backup for all of last season, and he almost returned to the Celtics for the same role this season. But then he was given the opportunity to join the champs in Dallas, and he couldn’t pass that up.

West signed with the Mavericks on Dec. 13 and he has since cemented himself in the starting lineup for the defending champs. Jason Kidd is out with a lower back injury and West has taken over the point guard reigns. He is currently averaging 7.8 PPG, 1.5 RPG and 3.8 APG for the Mavs.

This is definitely a matchup to keep an eye on tonight. West will be looking to make a point that he can compete with Rondo as a starter on another team. The Celtics, meanwhile, will be looking to prove that West made the wrong decision by choosing the Mavericks instead of them.