Game Preview: Pistons at Celtics

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BOSTON – Home games have been plentiful for the Boston Celtics (15-12) in the early goings of the 2011-12 season, but that will end tonight.

The Celtics, who have already played a league-high 18 home games, will host the Detroit Pistons (8-22) at 7:30 p.m. tonight and then hit the road for five straight games over the course of the next two weeks.

Boston heads into tonight’s game with an 11-7 record at home, while the Pistons are a woeful 2-12 on the road. One of the Celtics’ 11 home wins came way back on Dec. 30, when they knocked off Detroit by a score of 96-85 on Opening Night at TD Garden.

The score of that game doesn’t indicate the dominance the Celtics displayed over the Pistons that night. Boston led by as many as 25 points in that game, including a 22-point advantage in the fourth quarter. None of Boston’s starters gathered more than 4:23 of playing time in that final frame, allowing the Pistons to make a run against the Celtics’ reserves.

Two of the players who helped spark Detroit’s minor comeback are now in starting roles with the Pistons. Rookie point guard Brandon Knight, who tallied 10 points and three rebounds in that Dec. 30 meeting, is now running the show for Detroit and Jason Maxiell, a big-time energy player down low, has also made his way into the starting lineup. Starting alongside those two players will be Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Tayshaun Prince.

We know the starting lineup for Detroit, but we cannot say the same about Boston. The Celtics have been bit by the injury bug and have several players who are questionable for tonight’s game.

First and foremost is Kevin Garnett, who tweaked his hip flexor against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday afternoon. When Doc Rivers spoke to media members after Tuesday’s practice, he gave Garnett a 50-50 chance of playing in tonight’s game.

In addition to the possible absence of KG, Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus were termed as doubtful for this contest. Both are nursing sore knees, and Rivers has said Bass could be absent for up to two weeks. Jermaine O’Neal has been saddled with a few painful injuries as well, and although he practiced on Tuesday, it is unknown if he will play tonight.

With all of those question marks, Rivers and his coaching staff have had a difficult time game planning for this contest.

“It’s tough, especially with the bigs, because you don’t know if you’re going to have a shooting big on the floor at all, or you’re going to have all (pick-and-)-rollers,” Rivers said on Tuesday. “So it’s just difficult to know what you’re going to do. I’ll sleep well because I won’t know what I’m going to do.”

Rivers will likely find out who is available for tonight’s game and who isn’t when the team gathers for shootaround this morning. That isn’t exactly the way Boston would like to head into its final home game in the next 13 days, but that’s the reality for the Celtics.

Big Minutes for the Rook

It’s a near guarantee that rookie power forward JaJuan Johnson is going to log big minutes again tonight. He is coming off of a career-high 33 minutes of action on Sunday against the Bulls that led to a career-high 12 points.

With Garnett and Bass likely on the sideline for this one, Johnson will probably have an opportunity to surpass both of those numbers tonight. He might even get his first career start. Johnson has the green light to fire up shots at the offensive end, but as Rivers said on Tuesday, Johnson is still finding his way defensively.

“The first three minutes (Carlos) Boozer just completely attacked him when he saw him on the floor, and I thought as the minutes went on, JaJuan figured out a different way of trying to counteract Boozer’s power, and I thought he did a great job,” said Rivers. “He got deflections, and I think what he realized is that, ‘I can’t let him catch it.’ But that’s good. That’s something he’ll find out during games.”

Nearly every Piston will outsize Johnson tonight, so the rookie will need to adjust on the fly yet again and figure out a way to be effective.

Contain Monroe

Greg Monroe is unquestionably the best player on the Detroit Pistons, and he’s a borderline All-Star this season. He did not make the Eastern Conference squad, but his 16.4 PPG and 9.7 RPG are evidence that he is one of the premier centers in the league.

Monroe was a force against the C’s when these teams met back in December. He recorded game highs of 22 points and nine rebounds in that contest. Those numbers were accrued against Boston’s healthy starters, and he’ll likely be facing off against some reserves tonight. That may be the formula for a big game from Detroit’s big man in the middle.

Bounce-Back Game for Pierce

Captain Paul Pierce was playing so well in late January and early February that he earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors and was named to the All-Star team. However, over the past week his performance has been very underwhelming.

Pierce has averaged just 13.5 PPG on 36.8 percent shooting over his past four games. He has also committed an average of 2.8 turnovers in each of those contests.

Prince, Detroit’s starting small forward, is a solid defender with great length who could cause problems for Pierce tonight. But if Pierce’s 2010-11 averages of 24.5 PPG and 63 percent shooting against Prince and the Pistons are any indication, he might just get back on track tonight.