Game Preview: Celtics at Bulls

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – There isn’t much time to sulk about Wednesday night’s tough loss to the San Antonio Spurs. The Boston Celtics (30-23) are right back in action at 9:30 p.m. tonight against the best team in the league, the Chicago Bulls (42-13), in the United Center.

The Celtics fought an uphill battle throughout Wednesday’s game against the Spurs, narrowly missing their sixth straight win in an 87-86 defeat. Now they’ll need to turn the page quickly and focus in on what may be the most challenging second night of a back-to-back on this season’s schedule.

The fact that tonight’s game will be Boston’s second game in two nights doesn’t tell the whole story. There are several other factors that make this one a great challenge, starting with the tip-off time.

Boston and Chicago will get this one underway after 9:30 p.m. tonight for those on the East Coast. The C’s may be playing in the central time zone, but their bodies are still on East Coast time. This means that they’re essentially playing a West Coast game – those typically start at 10 or 10:30 p.m. – without a day of rest.

And it certainly doesn’t help that this game will be played against the best team in the league. Chicago has been on top of the standings for nearly the entire season thanks to a deep and balanced attack at both ends. Some of the Bulls’ reserves are considered by many to be better than some of their starters.

There is one starter, however, who is unquestionably better than anyone else on the team. He is the reigning league MVP, Derrick Rose.

Rose has been out of the lineup since March 12 due to a strained right groin. The Bulls are taking as much time as they need to nurse that groin back to full health, and that may result in a break for the Celtics tonight.

As reported on Wednesday by the Chicago Sun-Times, Rose participated in his first practice since suffering the injury yesterday in Chicago. However, his participation was limited. He did not run at full speed and did not take part in contact drills.

That second fact is very important for the Celtics. The golden rule of injuries in the NBA is that a team won’t bring a player back from an injury until he goes through full-contact drills without any setbacks. The Sun-Times report clearly states that Rose isn’t at that stage just yet.

That’s a sigh of relief for Rajon Rondo and the Celtics, who will be looking to get back on track tonight. Chicago has been a good team without Derrick Rose this season, leaning heavily on C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, but it is not the same team without the reigning MVP.

Rondo, who has accumulated 14 consecutive double-digit assist games, will have a drastic advantage tonight if Rose does not play. When these teams met on Feb. 12 in TD Garden and Rose did not play, Rondo exploded for a monster triple-double of 32 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists. Watson did score 22 points of his own, but Rondo dictated the pace of the game and led the Celtics to a 95-91 victory.

Will he have the opportunity to do so again tonight? The answer is probably a ‘yes,’ but you never know. Rose could return to Chicago’s lineup, and that would make this tough contest even more of a challenge for Boston.

Paul Pierce

Luol Deng's defense has been a thorn in Paul Pierce's side in three meetings this season.
Jonathan Daniel/NBAE/Getty

Celtics Need Pierce

If you follow the Celtics for an entire season, you’ll probably hear at least three of their players called the “most important player on the team.” Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are the leading candidates for that title. At this stage of the season, Pierce’s play might actually be the most important.

He is fresh off of being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month after averaging 22.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 3.6 APG in March. He was far from that level last night, notching just 15 points on 7-of-16 shooting against San Antonio.

Boston needs Pierce to score, particularly against a great defensive team like Chicago. Luol Deng has had Pierce’s number this season, limiting the captain to just 12.0 PPG 34.2 percent shooting in three games. The C’s will need Pierce to buck that trend tonight.

To Play or Not To Play?

Rose is kind of an important player, if you haven’t heard. He’s the reigning MVP and is averaging team-bests of 22.8 PPG and 8.0 APG this season. Chicago is still good without him, but it certainly isn’t a title contender.

Many have gushed about the Bulls’ ability to win without Rose in the lineup this season. Lately, though, Chicago has been struggling without its star point guard.

The Bulls have lost consecutive games this week for the first time this season. They fell 92-78 on Sunday to the Thunder and then 99-93 on Monday to the Rockets. Chicago is 1-1 against Boston this season without Rose in the lineup.

Compete on the Glass

As always, rebounding will be a key tonight. Chicago enters this game as the top rebounding team in the league with 46.1 boards a night. Meanwhile, Boston is last in the league with an average of 38.6 per game.

The Celtics were dominated on the glass in their two losses to the Bulls this season. Boston's average rebounding differential in those games was minus-14.

During Boston’s Feb. 12 win over the Bulls, the C’s actually won the rebounding battle by a count of 44-42. They managed to do that despite Pierce, the team’s third-leading active rebounder, grabbing just one board.

It’s not a coincidence that Boston defeated Chicago when it won the rebounding battle but lost to the Bulls when it was outrebounded. The C’s struggled on the glass Wednesday night and were outrebounded by the Spurs 53-39. They’ll need to avoid a similar outcome tonight in Chicago if they want to grab a win.