Game Preview: Celtics at Bobcats

BOSTON – While the rest of the country was caught up watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night, the Boston Celtics were on a chartered flight heading toward Charlotte, N.C. The Celtics (38-12) will seek their second win in as many days at 7 p.m. tonight against the Bobcats (21-29) in Time Warner Cable Arena.

Many would consider tonight’s contest the epitome of a trap game. Boston is coming off of a huge win on Sunday against the Orlando Magic and has a showdown with the Lakers looming just three days away. The C’s will also be playing in the second night of a back-to-back and will be doing so without numerous members of their team.

The injury bug continued to bite on Sunday when Marquis Daniels tumbled to the floor in the second quarter of Boston’s win after suffering a bruised spinal cord. Daniels has since regained his motor skills, but the Celtics stated that he will likely not return to the lineup for at least one month.

Daniels will not be the only Celtic who misses tonight’s game. Shaquille O’Neal will not play for the third consecutive game as he continues to rest a sore Achilles. Doc Rivers mentioned prior to Sunday’s game that O’Neal could return to the lineup as soon as Thursday against Los Angeles, or as late as after the All-Star break.

With those two out of the lineup, as well as the other longstanding absences of Delonte West and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics will be forced to move forward with a shorthanded lineup. That lineup did, however, handle its business on Sunday afternoon in the Garden.

Boston responded to Daniels’ scary injury with fantastic basketball over the course of the remainder of the game. The C’s led by only three points over the Magic at halftime of Sunday’s win but blew the game open in the second half and led by as many as 16 points.

Much of the Celtics’ success can be pinned on the shoulders of Rajon Rondo, who dominated an entire contest for the first time in more than a month. Rondo racked up a season-high 26 points against Orlando on Sunday and made seven of his nine free throw attempts.

While Rondo did have a successful day at the offensive end, he also took some punishment in doing so. He continually attacked the basket and was hammered on several occasions by Orlando defenders in the paint. He is likely to have some soreness tonight in the second night of a back-to-back, and that could lead to less productivity against the Bobcats.

As the All-Star break approaches, Boston is looking to get healthy and Charlotte is attempting to hang around in the playoff race. The Bobcats currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, just one game behind Indiana for the final playoff spot.

The last time these two teams met, Charlotte was in the midst of a season-long four-game win streak and had won six out of eight games overall since Paul Silas had replaced Larry Brown as head coach. But the Celtics quickly halted Charlotte’s winning ways with a 99-94 win on Jan. 14, and the Bobcats haven’t recovered since.

Boston’s win over Charlotte marked the beginning of a 6-8 stretch that the Bobcats are currently experiencing. That sub-.500 basketball has included four losses in the team’s last five games, including back-to-back defeats at the hands of Miami and Dallas over the weekend.

Charlotte has not played since Saturday night’s 101-92 loss to the Mavericks, and that should give them a slight advantage tonight. The Celtics have struggled often this season in the second night of a back-to-back, and that could be the case tonight after a physical battle with the Magic on Sunday back in Boston.

Offensive Issues in Charlotte

When Silas took over as head coach of the Bobcats in late December, the team experienced an immediate spike in offensive production. Charlotte scored more than 100 points in four of its first six games under Silas, all of which were wins. That scoring outburst took place from Dec. 27 to Jan. 8, and it hasn’t returned since.

The Bobcats have managed to reach the century mark only three times since that date, a span that includes 16 games. Charlotte currently ranks 28th in the league in scoring at 92.5 PPG, which bests only New Jersey (92.5 PPG) and Milwaukee (91.3 PPG).

Scoring issues are not what you’d like to be experiencing when you’re set to face off against the Celtics. Boston is the top team in the league in terms of opponent scoring, allowing only 91.5 PPG. The C’s also rank third in the league in opponent field goal percentage at 43.7 percent. Boston has limited the Bobcats to 62 points or less on two separate occasions over the past season and a half, and while Charlotte may not score that low tonight, it’s likely that it will struggle to break the 90-point barrier.

Big Bench Night

The tail end of back-to-backs are never easy, and they become increasingly difficult when the first game of the set was a contest against one of the top teams in the league. Boston fought hard to grab its win against Orlando on Sunday in the Garden, and three of the starters played at least 36 minutes. Paul Pierce led the team with nearly 42 minutes of playing time, while Kevin Garnett’s 32:28 of playing time was the lowest total for any of Boston’s starters.

With so many minutes logged and a night of travel following the contest, it’s likely that the starters will not have a full tank for tonight’s game. It’s one thing to play a lot of minutes, but when those minutes carry significance in a physical game they will typically take a toll on the body the next day.

For this reason, Boston will need some quality minutes from the bench tonight. The C’s will have a short list of reserves dur to the long list of injuries, but they have recalled Avery Bradley to add to the number of bodies available. He may be called on for some minutes tonight, but the real production will need to come from veterans like Glen Davis and Nate Robinson. If those two can carry the load off of the bench, fellow reserves such as Von Wafer, Semih Erden and Luke Harangody should be able to chip in with solid contributions as well.

Concentrate on Tonight

As previously mentioned, tonight’s game against the Bobcats isn’t exactly the glitz and glamour of the Celtics’ current schedule. Tonight’s contest will mark the third game of a five-game stretch in which Boston will play four title contenders. The only team during this stretch that doesn’t have a championship on its mind is Charlotte.

Plenty of activity took place on Sunday, from Daniels’ injury to the physical win over the Magic, but the Celtics need to leave that contest in the rearview mirror. The C’s also have a rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers that will take place on national television Thursday night, and that’s a game that most teams could be caught looking forward to. On top of those contests, Ray Allen is just three 3-pointers shy of tying Reggie Miller atop the all-time 3-pointers made list, and that could easily happen tonight.

With all of that being said, Boston must do everything it can to take the court tonight with the same mindset it will against all of these contenders during that stretch - just deal with the task at hand. Failing to keep a guard up and take Charlotte seriously tonight could give the Bobcats confidence throughout the game. That’s not something a championship-caliber team like the Celtics wants to allow a struggling squad like the Bobcats to experience.