Game Preview: Celtics at Bobcats

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Is three times a charm for the Boston Celtics (26-22)?

When they take the floor at 7 p.m. tonight in Charlotte to face off with the Bobcats (7-39), the Celtics will be given their third opportunity this month to climb into first place in the Atlantic Division standings. They did not capitalize on the first two opportunities, both losses to the 76ers, but tonight could be a different story.

The Bobcats are a far different team than the Sixers, to say the least. Charlotte enters tonight’s game owning the worst record in the league and has lost three consecutive games by double-figures. The average margin in those three losses was 19.3 PPG.

The Celtics didn’t quite beat Charlotte by 19 points when these teams met back on Feb. 7 in TD Garden, but their 94-84 win sure was convincing. Boston led that game by as many as 18 points and limited the Bobcats to 45.1 percent shooting. Three of Charlotte’s five starters scored four or less points in that contest.

On the other side of the ball, Boston’s offense picked the Bobcats apart. The C’s shot nearly 51 percent in the game and had five players score in double-figures, led by 22 points from Kevin Garnett.

That victory was great for the Celtics, but it can’t be used as a barometer heading into tonight’s game. Boston’s lineup is drastically different today than it was back in early February.

Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus will be out of the lineup yet again tonight and Jermaine O’Neal is sidelined for the rest of the season. Allen (sore right ankle) will be missing his third straight game and Pietrus (head injury) will be out for the second consecutive game. With those players sidelined with injuries, the Celtics are calling on Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma to step in with big minutes. Both have been playing well, but Bradley stole the show last night.

The second-year guard started at shooting guard and dominated Sunday night’s win over the Washington Wizards by scoring a game-high and career-high 23 points. He dropped in 15 points in the first quarter, which was three more than the entire Wizards team scored.

Bradley had started 10 games this season prior to Sunday’s game and all of those starts were at the point guard position. Last night, filling in for Allen, Bradley started at shooting guard. Everyone watching the game could see immediately that the young guard’s comfort level was much higher playing in that role.

“Obviously we can tell he’s far more comfortable at that position and unfortunately for him, in a lot of ways, we’ve had to play him at the other position,” Doc Rivers said Sunday night. “But I think it gives him confidence. One of the things I’ve said consistently all year is that he can shoot the ball and he was making me a liar for most of the year.”

Bradley’s 7-for-7 start Sunday certainly gave credence to Rivers’ statements. It also played a huge role in the Celtics’ ability to win for the third time in four games and give themselves an opportunity to tie for first place in the division with a win tonight.

Starters off the Bench

One of the reasons why Charlotte is a bad basketball team is the fact that it does not have a single player who can be referred to as a star. Based on this season’s statistics, none of Charlotte’s players could even be referred to as very good.

Corey Maggette leads the team in scoring with 15.4 PPG, but he is shooting just 37.5 percent from the field. Three of the team’s top four scorers shoot less than 39.0 percent from the floor.

Since there are no players on the roster that are great, the Bobcats have balance throughout their team. Several players who come off of the bench could easily be in their starting lineup, highlighted by Kemba Walker and Byron Mullens.

Those two players were two of Charlotte’s best when these teams faced off in February. Walker had 16 points and seven rebounds as the team’s starting point guard, and Mullens logged 11 points and six boards off of the bench. Both of those players will likely be reserves tonight, so Boston’s bench will need to keep up with them while they’re on the floor.

Feed the Big Ticket

Garnett was the best player on the floor when the Celtics and Bobcats met last month. He scored a game-high 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting. There was no one on Charlotte’s roster who could contain him.

The Celtics should take note of that fact before the ball is tossed up tonight. This Bobcats roster will not feature any new big men that Garnett didn’t see last month. Rookie center Bismack Biyombo, who is known for his defensive prowess in the paint, will be forced to guard KG away from the basket tonight. Garnett will have the upper hand in that matchup, especially when you consider that he only played 23 minutes during Sunday night’s game.

Clog the Paint

Boston’s defense is built to protect the rim and clog the paint. If it succeeds in those two goals during this game, the Bobcats will be in for a long, long night.

Charlotte is by far the worst team in the league when it comes to shooting the basketball. The Bobcats make just 41.6 percent of their shots and 30.0 percent of their 3-pointers. Obviously, the farther you push them away from the basket, the less effective they become.

There are several players on Charlotte’s roster who are willing to settle for perimeter shots despite the fact that they rarely make them. If Boston loads up its interior defense and doesn’t allow many shots in the paint by the Bobcats, it should lead to a successful outcome.