Game Preview: Bobcats at Celtics

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics returned to the practice court Thursday afternoon, and today will be their first opportunity to show that said practice makes perfect. The Celtics (50-20) will return to action when they host the Charlotte Bobcats (28-42) at 7:30 p.m. in the TD Garden.

Tonight’s contest will be the final meeting of a four-game regular season series between these two teams, with Boston holding a 2-1 advantage thus far. The most recent meeting, on Feb. 7 in Charlotte, resulted in a 94-89 victory for the Bobcats.

That defeat left a sore taste in Boston’s mouth, as Ray Allen iterated to the media after the game.

“I thought that we just didn’t have great focus throughout the game,” Allen said. “It was just not the effort that we needed to win this game. I can’t even look at the other team and say what they did well. We didn’t play up to the standards we need to put out there.”

One of the reasons Boston didn’t play well is because that contest came in the second night of a back-to-back, one night after the team had knocked off the Orlando Magic in the Garden. The Celtics have struggled in those situations this season, going only 7-8 this season in the second night, and though another back-to-back is on tap for Sunday and Monday night, they will be able to enter tonight’s game with fresh legs.

Boston last played on Wednesday night when it fell to the Memphis Grizzlies, 90-87. The C’s returned to the practice court on Thursday looking to clean up some of the issues that had plagued them during a two-week stretch in which they did not hold a single practice session. Kevin Eastman, speaking to the media in place of Doc Rivers after the head coach decided to give himself a day off from reporters, mentioned that the team had been trying to establish its DNA during walk-throughs and games, and that simply doesn’t work.

“We’re having to do it verbally, more than physically, and there’s a difference,” said Eastman. “When you’re physically working on it, it’s just a little bit easier to pick it up. When you just hear it all the time by voice, it’s a little harder to pick up.”

With an intense practice in the books, the Celtics hope to be able to pick it up as a team tonight in a payback game against the Bobcats.

Charlotte was boosted by the performances of two bench players in their February win over Boston, as Shaun Livingston and Gerald Henderson scored 18 and 15 points apiece, respectively. Each of those players at least matched the entire scoring output of the Celtics’ bench, which was led by Glen Davis’ seven points.

As we all know, Boston’s bench has undergone a dramatic reshaping process since that game and now has a dynamic scorer in Jeff Green to join Davis as a super sub. Charlotte does not have a reliable backup small forward, so Green should be able to give a solid all around performance tonight.

In fact, the entire Celtics team should be able to give a solid all around performance tonight, considering that they’re taking on a Charlotte team that is quickly sinking as the season comes to a close. The Bobcats have been in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the East, but they have faded with their four consecutive losses that have all come in blowout fashion. Charlotte has lost those four games by an average of 16.8 PPG, including a 23-point blowout to the team they’re trying to catch for the eighth seed, the Indiana Pacers, Wednesday night.

The Bobcats have lost 10 of their last 12 games overall, so this may be the exact type of team the Celtics need to face to get back on track. Boston has crushed Charlotte on several occasions over the past few seasons, and with the combination of a Thursday practice and payback being on the Celtics’ minds tonight, this one could get ugly as well.

Break Out the Offense

Larry Brown, who coached most of these players for the past couple of seasons up until he was ousted in December, left a solid defensive base in Charlotte. Brown’s defensive mindset has carried over despite his absence, and the team ranks 11th in the league in opponent scoring by allowing just 97.1 PPG.

The Celtics are also a supreme defensive group and lead the league by allowing just 90.9 PPG. No opponent has broken the century mark against Boston since the Clippers put up 108 points on March 9.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, they haven’t been able to score much, either. That March 9 game against the Clippers also marks the last time they were able to score at least 100 points, and they haven’t notched more then 96 in a single game since.

Boston is going to come out tonight with great focus, and that should lead to plenty of points on the scoreboard. Yes, Charlotte is a very solid defensive team, but it has fallen asleep of late and allowed its last two opponents to score at least 109 points. If the Celtics catch their stride tonight, which might be something to count on, they should be able to continue the Bobcats’ defenseless streak.

Let Pierce Go Off

Paul Pierce has had plenty of success against the Bobcats this season. Pierce has scored an average of 20.5 PPG on 46.4 percent shooting against Charlotte in the teams’ last two meetings. We’ll just go ahead and discount the first meeting of the season, in which Pierce played less than 30 minutes thanks to a huge blowout win.

Those two big games took place when the Bobcats were starting a former All-Star, Gerald Wallace, at small forward. He has since been shipped out to Portland, and the team is now starting a three-guard lineup, rather than using a typical small forward. It’s likely that Stephen Jackson, who is actually 6-foot-8, will defend Pierce tonight.

That three-guard lineup has allowed players like Danny Granger (33 points on Wednesday) and Kevin Durant (25 points on March 18) to go off of late, and Pierce may join that party tonight. Considering what Rivers said after Wednesday’s loss, Pierce should get plenty of looks.

“You know Paul is pretty good, and he’s got to get more touches in games,” said Rivers. “And I think we go back and forth on movement, and we want that, but we’ve also got to get Paul involved. That’s on me; I’ve got to get Paul involved more.”

Dominate the Paint

Charlotte isn’t exactly the toughtest team inside, and evidence of that can be found in their recent rebounding performances. The Bobcats haven’t pulled in more then 40 rebounds since March 11 against the Trail Blazers, when they totaled 42 boards. Since that date, their low water mark of rebounds was 28, which was their final tally on Wednesday night against the Pacers. The top rebounder on the Bobcats is Kwame Brown, and he only averages 6.8 RPG.

With all of those numbers in mind, there’s no doubt that players like Kevin Garnett, Nenad Krstic and Glen Davis should be able to attack the glass consistently tonight. The C’s have struggled with winning the rebounding and points in the paint battles of late, but that should all change against Charlotte.