Game Preview: Celtics at Clippers

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (21-19) will wrap up the Los Angeles portion of their eight-game road trip when they take on the Clippers (23-16) at 10:30 p.m. tonight in Staples Center.

Boston opened up its daunting trip with a Sunday matinee against the Lakers that resulted in a 97-94 loss in Staples Center. Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum lifted the Lakers to their victory with some last-minute heroics. Although the Clippers won’t have a duo on the court tonight that is of the level of Bryant and Bynum, they sure do have some great players.

It all starts with their new starting point guard, Chris Paul. Paul has been one of the best in the league since he came into the NBA in 2005 and has resurrected a Clippers franchise that has been known for mediocrity. He is averaging 20.3 PPG and 9.8 APG, all the while putting up fantastic shooting numbers across the board.

Paul isn’t the only one putting up big numbers for Los Angeles. He has an All-Star power forward, Blake Griffin, to run the pick-and-roll with and that twosome is combining for 41.7 points a night. Griffin is scoring 21.4 of those points and also grabs 11.2 RPG.

Paul and Griffin are far and away the best players on the Clippers’ roster and will be the focal points of Boston’s defensive game plan. But this L.A. team has several other strong players that the C’s will need to keep tabs on, too.

Mo Williams is in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year award thanks to his 13.8 PPG off the bench. He is shooting better than 40.0 percent from downtown and has been nearly automatic from the free-throw line, where he’s making 86.9 percent of his attempts. A couple of other veterans, Caron Butler (12.7 PPG) and Kenyon Martin (5.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) help to make up a strong supporting cast.

The Clippers do have a very strong team that can score in a variety of ways, but they do not pose the same type of matchup problems the Lakers did for Boston on Sunday. DeAndre Jordan’s size and length at the center position would be an issue, but he is not an offensive threat unless he’s dunking the ball through the basket. He is certainly no Bynum.

Boston will be happy to avoid a player like Bynum while playing in the second night of a back-to-back. On top of that good news, the C’s can lean on the fact that this isn’t your typical tail-end game.

The Celtics slept in the same bed two nights in a row and Sunday’s game ended about 29 hours before tonight will start, rather than the standard difference of about 22 hours. Both of Boston’s opponents during this back-to-back also run half-court, methodical offenses, and the Clippers will be playing in the second night of a back-to-back, too.

Yes, the C’s are still adjusting to West Coast time, but the back-to-back excuse should not be used for this one.

The goal, as always, is to end this game in a manner that won’t need excuses. In other words, Boston wants to grab a win. It will need improved performances from several players to grab that win, particularly Paul Pierce. Pierce struggled against the Lakers on Sunday, scoring just 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting while grabbing zero rebounds.

Sunday’s game was one in which Boston needed Pierce to score and rebound. While he did dish out nine assists, hee under delivered in the other two areas against the Lakers. Pierce, much like the Celtics as a whole, as they will look to bounce back tonight and avoid falling to 0-2 on this epic road trip.

Masked Man 2.0

Boston faced off with a masked man on Sunday and all he did was win the game down the stretch and score a game-high 26 points. Kobe Bryant, who is wearing a clear mask to protect his fractured nose, was the best player on the floor not named Rajon Rondo.

Another masked man might hold that same title tonight. Paul, who suffered a nasal fracture during his team’s loss to the Warriors on Sunday, will be wearing a similar mask to Bryant’s when he takes the floor tonight.

“It’s different,” Paul said of the mask after wearing it during game action on Sunday, “but it doesn’t inhibit anything.”

Paul managed to score 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting on Sunday despite the fracture. Boston can live with that, as long as he doesn’t close this game out in the same fashion the other masked man did for the Lakers.

Avoid Lob City

Boston’s 2010 offseason was geared toward producing a huge frontline. The 2011 offseason, albeit a brief one, was geared toward making its frontline uber athletic.

The Celtics accomplished that goal by bringing in big men Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox, two targets that Rondo finds often for big dunks. Wilcox will not be available for tonight’s game, though, which takes away half of the athleticism Boston brought in before the season began.

In some games, such as Sunday’s against the Lakers, the Celtics could overcome that lack of athleticism with production from other guys like Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma. In this game, that might not be the case.

The Clippers are known for their Lob City antics thanks to their super-athletic frontcourt of Griffin and Jordan. Paul can essentially lob the ball up anywhere in the general vicinity of the basket and one of those guys will find a way to throw it down.

Boston knows that its athleticism and size will be limited for tonight’s game, but it will need to figure out a way to prevent this Clippers team from energizing the arena with thunderous alley-oops.

Bench Play is Critical

It’s no secret that Boston’s bench has been underwhelming of late. The reserves combined for just 11 points against the Lakers and haven’t had a productive statistical game against a good team in quite some time. That needs to change tonight against a Clippers team that is essentially just seven players deep.

The Celtics are in the second night of a back-to-back, and no matter how abnormal this tail-end game is, Doc Rivers will still be watching the minutes of his Big Three, particularly Garnett. Boston’s bench is nicked up, with Wilcox not playing tonight and Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma seemingly suffering minor tweaks on Sunday. That might mean that youngsters such as Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson will be leaned on heavily tonight.