Game Preview: Celtics at Mavericks

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

UPDATED at 5:23 p.m. - BOSTON – The tail-end of a brutal back-to-back is on tap for the Boston Celtics (15-15) at 8 p.m. tonight in Dallas. The C’s will take on the defending champion Mavericks (20-12) for the final time during the 2011-12 season, and they'll do it without the services of Rajon Rondo, who was suspended by the NBA on Monday for "throwing a ball at an official and striking him in the chest" in Sunday's game vs. Detroit.

These two teams first met back on Jan. 11 in TD Garden, when the Mavericks snuck out with a 90-85 road win. Rajon Rondo led that game in both scoring (24 points) and assists (seven), but it was not enough to overcome a great team effort by the Mavs.

Dallas, much like the Celtics, did not get off to a hot start this season. It began the season with a 3-5 record and was forced to play without Dirk Nowitzki for a full week in late January. The team decided to sit him out for a week and put him through a mini training camp in order to rehab his knee and get him into game shape.

That unique decision has paid off for Nowitzki and the Mavs, as has led them to six wins in their past seven games. Nowitzki is averaging 22.4 PPG in February, which essentially coincides with his return from the week off. He had averaged just 15.1 PPG in the month of January.

With their top player back in shape, the Mavericks have returned to title-contending status. They are, however, coming off of a tough loss Sunday afternoon in New York.

Dallas got a taste of Linsanity when the sensational point guard dropped 28 points and 14 assists during Sunday’s action. Nowitzki poured in a season-high 34 points during that game but it was not enough to overcome the streaking Knicks. Dallas isn’t the only team that can make the claim that it ran into a hot opponent on Sunday.

Boston did as well, playing against a Pistons team that had won six of its past eight heading into Sunday’s action. Detroit continued its strong play with a 96-81 victory thanks to an ugly performance by the C’s.

Boston did not look like itself against the Pistons. Marred by mistake after mistake, the Celtics were frustrated throughout the game. The three areas where the C’s were dominated were free throws, turnovers and second-chance points. Detroit attempted 46 free throws to Boston’s 15, the C’s turned it over 24 times, and the Pistons scored 29 second-chance points thanks to 16 offensive rebounds.

Sunday’s contest was easily one of the more frustrating losses of the season for Boston. The Celtics were whistled for four technical fouls and just did not seem as if they were into the game from a mental standpoint.

Doc Rivers and his staff know that if they are going to win tonight, that can’t be the case. Although Dallas is coming off of a loss, it is playing great basketball while being led by one of the best players in the league. The Celtics have the talent to overcome the Mavericks, but it certainly won’t be easy in the second night of a difficult back-to-back.

Fatigued Bodies

If you asked the head coaches of these two teams if they’re saddled with a more difficult back-to-back this season than the one they’re going to wrap up tonight, their answers would almost certainly be ‘No.’ Both teams played in the Eastern time zone on Sunday and then boarded a flight all the way to Dallas for tonight’s game.

Boston is coming off of a blowout loss at the hands of the Pistons and as a result might actually be more rested than the Mavericks heading into this game. Dallas’ loss to the Knicks went down to the wire and Nowitzki played 38 minutes. His fellow frontcourt teammate, Shawn Marion, also logged nearly 36 minutes of action. Following the loss, the Mavs boarded their flight that from New York to Dallas, which is longer than the flight Boston took from Detroit to Dallas.

Although the Mavs likely returned home late Sunday night and the C’s landed in wee hours of the morning, Boston’s starters were able to rest for the final four-plus minutes of action on Sunday. Thanks to that, the C’s might be in better position to deal with the fatigue of this back-to-back than the Mavericks are.

Who’s Available for Boston?

This is a huge question mark for both teams heading into this contest. As we already outlined, Boston will be without Rondo after Monday's two-game suspension was handed down. In addition, the C’s may be without Kevin Garnett, who missed Sunday’s game due to a family matter.

If the Celtics are without both of those players they will be staring down a very difficult situation. Taking on the defending champs on the road is already tough in its own right. Doing so in the second night of a back-to-back without two of your top players is about as tough as it gets.

It's more likely that both Chris Wilcox and Avery Bradley may need to step into the starting lineup and play big minutes. Both of those players are capable of delivering great games, as we’ve already seen this season. If their names are called again tonight, they’ll need to deliver great performances again.

Clean Up Your Act

The Celtics, much like nearly every team in the NBA, have experienced some ugly losses this season. Sunday’s defeat at the hands of the Pistons may have been the ugliest of them all.

Boston’s frustration was evident all night and it boiled over to the point of no return. The sloppy play it displayed led to 24 turnovers and allowed Detroit to dominate the game despite shooting just 37.8 percent from the floor. As Rivers said after the contest, his team shot itself in the foot too many times.

“I told [my players], at the end of the first quarter, we were shooting 65 percent and the score was tied and they were shooting 38 percent,” said Rivers. “At halftime we were shooting 50 percent and they were shooting 38 percent and they were up 13. That's hard to figure when you just think about the shooting numbers; and you can say, well, your defense was great, and (then) say yeah but we're turning the ball over and we gave up offensive rebounds and we fouled every possession.”

Those are mistakes that can’t be made against most teams in this league if you want to win a basketball game. The Pistons proved that they could take advantage of those mistakes, and the Mavericks certainly can, too. In order to win this game on the road, Boston will need to clean up its act and limit those ugly mistakes.