Game Preview: Spurs at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Two of the hottest teams in the NBA will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden when the Boston Celtics (30-22) host the San Antonio Spurs (37-14).

Each team heads into tonight’s game owning at least a five-game winning streak and neither has suffered more than five losses since the All-Star break. These two teams may be headlined by a group of older veterans, but they just continue to deliver year-in and year-out.

“It just seems like they’re not going to go away,” Paul Pierce said Tuesday afternoon of the Spurs.

San Antonio has sidestepped injuries and age this season and racked up the second-best record in the Western Conference. It has won eight in a row and is in the hunt for the top seed out West. The Spurs could even challenge for the top record in the league depending on how the final three weeks of the regular season play out.

How are the Spurs defying the odds and piecing together such a fantastic season? The answer is simple: the ever-reliable trio of Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

Popovich, much like Doc Rivers, is considered one of the best coaches in the NBA, if not the best. He is a master of turning loose change into dollar bills and helping his teams and players overachieve.

Duncan and Parker aren’t overachieving, simply because they’re expected to be playing at a high level, but they sure are playing well.

Duncan, in his 15th NBA season, is averaging 15.0 PPG and 9.0 RPG this season. He has experienced major increases in those numbers since the All-Star break, as they are up to 17.6 PPG and 9.9 RPG in 15 contests.

Parker has been the on-court leader for San Antonio all season long. He was their lone All-Star and leads the team in scoring with 19.0 PPG. He also ranks eighth in the league in assists with 7.9 helpers a night.

That group gets a huge assist from Manu Ginobili as well as contributions from a bunch of other pieces. Popovich has the Spurs operating as a well-oiled machine that legitimately runs 10 deep. There are 10 players on San Antonio’s roster who average at least 19.8 minutes a game.

The coaching, the teamwork and the depth are why the Spurs won’t go away, but they aren’t the only team making that claim. The Celtics are playing as well as any team in the league right now and have been climbing up the standings over the past five weeks.

Boston heads into tonight’s game with a five-game winning streak that could be extended to a season-best mark with a win over the Spurs. The C’s are coming off of a dominant performance against the Miami Heat that resulted in a 19-point win and a heck of a lot of talk in the sports world.

The Celtics are back on track, and they should get an extra boost tonight. Ray Allen, who has missed the past six games with a sore right ankle, fully participated in Tuesday’s practice and is expected to start tonight’s game barring any setbacks.

With Allen back in the fold, tonight’s matchup will be just like old times. Boston’s Big Three (plus one) and Rivers facing off against San Antonio’s Big Three and Popovich. It should be a great night in the Garden.

Doc’s Rotation

Allen’s return to the lineup will cause a shake-up to the rotation Boston has used to win five consecutive games. Bradley has been starting at shooting guard and has excelled at that position. With Allen’s return, Bradley will be relegated to the bench and Rivers will have some work to do with his rotation.

Boston’s head coach indicated after Tuesday’s practice that he intends to tinker with his rotations to make sure that the C’s don’t miss a beat. He wants to make sure that the players who feed off of each other are on the court at the same time.

“We’re going to try to sub guys a little differently to keep the combinations the same,” he said.

Keep an eye out for who’s on the floor with Rajon Rondo tonight. As Rivers said yesterday, Rondo makes all of his teammates better, and that especially includes Allen and Bradley. In a realistic world, however, only one of those players can be on the floor with Rondo at a time.

Bad Break for the C’s

When the schedule came out, this game looked like a perfect situation for the Boston Celtics. They are coming off of two days of rest and the Spurs will be playing in the second night of a back-to-back. That would be a perfect situation, but Cleveland threw a kink in that scenario last night.

The Cavaliers put up no fight against San Antonio on Tuesday and allowed the Spurs to grab a 35-point victory in Quicken Loans Arena. With such a cushion all night long, Popovich was able to rest his aging veterans; none of San Antonio’s starters played more than 26 minutes and none of the Big Three eclipsed 24 minutes of action.

Thanks to that performance, the Spurs should be as well rested as one could hope heading into the tail-end of a back-to-back. That’s a bad break for the C’s, but they still have the advantage in relation to rested legs.

Do Yourselves a Favor

Boston will be looking to accomplish in this game what San Antonio did in its game last night. The Spurs blew out Cleveland and allowed themselves to have rested legs heading into a key game in the second night of a back-to-back. The Celtics face a similar situation over the next 48 hours.

The C’s take on the Spurs tonight and will immediately board a flight to Chicago for a showdown with the Bulls tomorrow. Although Chicago hasn’t been playing its best ball of the season, it still owns the best record in the league. Boston would be doing itself a huge favor tonight if it can build a comfortable lead against the Spurs and allow Rivers to limit the minutes for his starters.