Game Preview: Celtics at Wizards

BOSTON – All is good in Boston after the Celtics closed out their season-long, six-game homestand with a blowout victory over the Utah Jazz Friday night. The goal now is to bring the same type of success on the road, and they'll have an immediate opportunity tonight.

The Celtics (33-9) will play the tail end of a back-to-back at 7 p.m. tonight in Washington when they take on the struggling Wizards (12-29). This game looks like it should be a walk through on the surface for Boston, but taking a closer look tells us a different story.

Washington is in the midst of a brutal season in which it has jumped out to a 12-29 record over the first half of its schedule. Most of those losses have come on the road, where the Wizards are all-defeated, at 0-20. Take that into consideration before writing them off tonight, because that means they’re a solid 12-9 in the arena the C’s will be playing them in come 7 p.m.. Washington is 12-9 at home, and Boston is 12-6 on the road. Those similar records would lead you to believe that this game may wind up being closer than many expect.

The first time these teams met, back on Nov. 17, 2010, the game did play out as many expected. The Wizards are clearly a different team on the road, and it showed through when the Celtics dominated them en route to a 114-83 blowout victory in the TD Garden. Paul Pierce was the game’s top scorer with 23 points, and he put on a stellar shooting performance to light the Wizards up. Pierce hit 10 of his 16 field goal attempts, including a 3-of-4 performance from long distance.

Pierce wasn’t the only player in green and white who shot the ball at a high rate that night. The Celtics made 65.8 percent (50-of-76) of their shots overall in that game and nailed eight of their 13 3-point attempts. Rajon Rondo broke down the Wizards defense throughout the game and found his teammates for 13 assists.

That game’s point guard battle wasn’t anticipated to be so easy for Rondo, because rookie sensation John Wall was supposed to be there as well. Instead, Wall missed the game with a sprained left foot. He has since returned to the lineup, and returned to his fantastic play, but Washington missed his services dearly against Boston.

The Wizards struggled to score all night and failed to notch more than 16 points in both the second and fourth quarters. Boston’s suffocating defense limited Washington to 14 points in the final period, and the Wizards shot only 38.8 percent (31-for-80) in the game overall.

Having Wall in the lineup tonight to combat Rondo’s presence will be enormous for the Wizards. Rondo and Wall are very similar players in the fact that they both possess amazing quickness, but they also both struggle shooting the basketball. Though Rondo has picked up his shooting of late, he is not a perimeter threat that defenses will worry about just yet. Wall is similar in that way, but he will take the shots regardless.

Despite shooting less than 40 percent from the field this season, Wall still chucks up more than 13 field goal attempts per game. He also hasn’t yet learned that he’s not a reliable 3-point shooter, where he shoots less than 30 percent, because he takes more than two shots per game from downtown.

Boston is happy to have a point guard who knows his strengths and weaknesses. Rondo will only take shots if he believes it’s the best available for his team on any given possession, and he couldn’t care less about his point total. Although Wall does average an impressive 9.8 APG as a rookie, he also believes he is an elite scorer, judging by his shot attempts.

We’ll see tonight if Rondo’s poise will outlast Wall’s youth and give the Celtics an important win on the road in the second night of a back-to-back.

Make the Wiz Struggle

We’ve already noted that Washington shot a brutal 38.8 percent from the field against Boston in November, but judging by their season averages, that type of percentage might be more common than you’d think.

Washington ranks 24th in the league in field goal percentage at 44.2 percent and it scores only 96.5 PPG. That’s bad news for a team that will be facing off against one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Boston ranks first in the league in opponent scoring (91.3 PPG) and fourth in opponent field goal percentage (43.9 percent).

From the top of the Wizards’ roster to bottom, only one player, Nick Young, managed to shoot better than 50 percent against Boston in the teams’ first meeting. If the C’s can put together another dominating defensive performance like that tonight, it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll up their winning streak to six games.

Stop Nick Young

Speaking of Young, he has exploded into star status over the past two months. Gilbert Arenas faked an injury in preseason with the goal of helping Nick Young start a game and show off his talents. Well, Arenas, a few months of the regular season show that you may want to consider a GM position upon retirement.

Young has started 17 games for the Wizards this season and is averaging 21.2 PPG in those contests. In contrast, he put up only 13.6 PPG in 23 games as a reserve. He is shooting the ball at a Ray Allen-type clip, making 46.7 percent of his field goals, 46.0 percent of his 3-pointers and 87.7 percent of his free throw attempts as a starter. Those are some dangerous numbers.

While Young is shooting the ball much like Allen, Washington’s young shooting guard is scoring at a much higher rate than Boston’s veteran. Young has 13 20-point games since Dec. 14, 2010, and dropped a career-high 43 points against Sacramento on Jan. 11. Although he doesn’t do much else on the floor other than score, the Celtics will really need to keep a body or two on him at all times tonight.

Empty the Tank

Typically on the second night of a back-to-back there won’t be much left in the tank for a team, but when you consider that none of Boston’s starters played more than 32 minutes during last night’s blowout win, they should have plenty of gas for tonight’s contest.

Pierce and Kevin Garnett were on the court for just less than 26 minutes apiece last night, but they both were able to score at least 20 points. With some rest under their belts heading into tonight’s game, they should be able to duplicate such efficiency.

The Celtics should have plenty left in the tank for tonight’s game, and Doc Rivers will likely instruct them to leave it all on the court. Boston will have two days off following tonight’s game before taking on the Cavaliers back in the TD Garden on Tuesday night. The C’s haven’t experienced two consecutive days off since they went gameless on Dec. 26 and 27, nearly a month ago. Knowing that they’ll have some down time after tonight’s game should give the C’s extra motivation to play with high intensity for 48 minutes.