Game Preview: Suns at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Two-time MVP Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns (5-9) will visit the Boston Celtics (5-8) at 7:30 p.m. Friday night in the TD Garden. This will be the only meeting of the season between the two teams.

Nash, at age 37, leads the NBA in APG with 10.1 a night and also leads the Suns in scoring with 15.1 PPG. He could be a thorn in the Celtics’ side tonight no matter what, but things could be much more difficult for Boston if All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo doesn’t play due to a sore right wrist.

Rondo tweaked the wrist during Wednesday night’s game when Linas Kleiza of the Raptors flagrantly fouled him under the basket. Rondo was down for several minutes while Boston’s medical staff checked him out, and Doc Rivers said on Thursday that the point guard is unlikely to play in tonight’s game.

Rondo’s absence would force the Celtics to start either second-year guard Avery Bradley or rookie E’Twaun Moore at point guard. Both of those players have been in and out of the rotation this season and it would be an obvious challenge for them to face off against a future Hall of Famer in Nash.

As Rivers pointed out on Thursday, before comparing Nash to Michael Jordan and Mohammed Ali, the 37-year-old is easily still one of the best in the business.

“He’s still one of the top ones,” Rivers said of Nash. “I don’t do the ranking stuff, because honestly I don’t watch everybody enough, but I watched him [Wednesday] night when I got home and you laugh, because he’s just destroying people. [Wednesday] he put a clinic on in New York. I mean, it was an absolute clinic. When you factor in his age and the speed he’s doing it at now, it’s just laughable.”

It won’t be laughable tonight if Nash racks up 26 points and 11 assists against the Celtics in the same manner he did Wednesday night against the Knicks. It will be either Bradley’s or Moore’s job to prevent that from happening if Rondo does not play.

Moore has been given more minutes on the court of late, but with Bradley’s stellar defensive skills may convince Rivers to give him the start tonight. Neither guard has played much, if at all, against Nash in the past, but Bradley thinks he’ll be prepared if his name is called.

“I’m going to go home and watch film, and I know the coaches are going to give me some tips,” Bradley said after Thursday’s practice. “And not only the coaches, but my teammates are going to tell me how he plays, things to look out for.”

Placing Bradley or Moore into the starting lineup isn’t what Rivers and his staff would love to do, but that’s the situation they may face if Rondo is unavailable. With Keyon Dooling also out with a sore right knee, the C’s just don’t have any other options.

Time will only tell if the youngsters are up to the challenge tonight. Containing Nash, who is by far the Suns’ best player, will be critical in Boston’s attempt to grab a second consecutive win.

Double-Threat

There aren’t many players in today’s game who are as much of a double-threat as Nash. Rivers outlined that point on Thursday when he compared Nash to Ali with the following statement:

“With Nash you don’t know what he is. You don’t know if he’s a score-first, you don’t know if he’s a pass-first. He’s almost like… he reminds me of Ali. Every fight, is he going to do the rope-a-dope? Is he dancing? I mean, you don’t know what he’s doing.”

Well, everyone knows what he’s doing. It’s shooting and passing. The question is which would the Celtics rather have Nash do? Boston’s coaching staff doesn’t have a definitive answer.

“Honestly, as a staff, we had the debate [Thursday]: Would you rather have him scoring or passing?” Rivers said. “And it was split right in half.”

Nash did both of those against the Knicks on Wednesday. The Celtics cannot allow him to do that again tonight.

Lockdown Defense

This will be the second consecutive game in which Boston plays a team that has an underwhelming offense. Not exactly what you’d expect from a Phoenix team that still runs former coach Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offensive system, but it’s a fact: the Suns rank 16th in the league with an average of only 93.9 PPG.

The last time Boston faced a struggling offensive team, on Wednesday against Toronto, the defense stepped up and limited the Raptors to just 73 points. Toronto scored more than 20 points in a quarter just once during that game.

The obvious key to a similar defensive performance tonight is slowing down Nash. It’s easier said than done, but if the C’s can pull it off they will almost certainly limit the Suns to less than 90 points. Phoenix has only three players on the roster who are scoring in double-figures. That’s not a lot of weapons against a Boston team that is finding its way at the defensive end.

Keep It Rolling

It had been a full two weeks since the Celtics had experienced the feeling of victory before they dominated the Raptors Wednesday night. The team badly needed a win, and they went out and got it. One win isn’t going to turn the season around, though, and the Celtics know that.

Boston needs to keep this tide rolling in the right direction and grab a second straight win tonight. The odds are that the Celtics will be undermanned, with several players unavailable due to injuries, but they will still have the more talented team and there is no doubt that they should win this game.

Looking ahead to next week will show you that winning tonight’s game is even more important. Boston is faced with two difficult back-to-backs n the span of six days. Three of those four games will be against opponents that already have nine wins on the season, including two against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. The Celtics do not want to head into that stretch of games on a losing note.