Game Preview: Celtics at Nets

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Game No. 2 of the Boston Celtics’ (34-25) back-to-back-to-back will tip off at 7:30 p.m. tonight in New Jersey when they visit the Nets (22-38).

New Jersey actually gave an assist to the Celtics last night when it knocked off the 76ers in Philadelphia. That victory helped Boston preserve a three-game lead in the Atlantic Division despite a disappointing loss to the Raptors in Toronto.

Boston headed into this three-games-in-three-nights set with the hopes of a sweep, but that goal went to the wayside quickly last night. It opened up a big lead over the Raptors in the first quarter of Friday’s game but couldn’t execute in the second half. The Raptors wound up making a huge run in the third quarter and went on to pull off a shocking victory over the C’s.

Many would say that Boston took Toronto lightly, and Doc Rivers would agree with that assessment.

“Yes, I’m sure that is some of it,” Rivers admitted. “You don’t have guys on the floor, you could see there was no urgency. There certainly was none. You could see that, even when they got a lead our guys played like, ‘Oh, we’ll come back’. You can’t play that way because someone is going to make a shot eventually.”

Toronto made just enough shots, most of which came from the free-throw line, to win the game and the C’s were sent to their plane ride with a bad feeling in their stomaches. The great thing about these three games in three nights is that they’ll have a shot to bounce back tonight. However, the Celtics must not take the Nets as lightly as they took the Raptors last night.

New Jersey has been playing pretty good basketball of late, winning six of its last nine games. Only two of those wins came against possible playoff teams, but hey, wins are wins.

The Nets are racking up those victories despite missing several key players in their lineup. They made a bold move at the trade deadline by coughing up an enormous asset in order to gain the services of Gerald Wallace. Wallace has played in just 13 games since the trade and is currently sidelined with a strained left hamstring. In addition to Wallace being out of the lineup, Brook Lopez it out for the remainder of the season with a right foot injury.

With Wallace and Lopez in the fold, the Nets are a team that opponents have to worry about, particularly in the second night of a back-to-back. Without them, however, New Jersey doesn’t hold much of an intimidation factor. Deron Williams and Kris Humphries are still there, but there aren’t any other household names on the active roster.

That sounds pretty similar to the situation the Celtics were looking at last night in Toronto. Two of Toronto’s top players were out of the lineup, which meant that Dwayne Casey had to play a bunch of guys who probably don’t even have their jersey being sold in the team store. Boston eyed that situation and believed it could take the game lightly yet still pull out a win. As they now know, that wasn’t the case.

Let’s hope the Celtics avoid a similar mindset tonight when they take on another underwhelming divisional opponent in New Jersey.

Keep Humphries off the Glass

If the Celtics think they’re short on the frontline, they can take a look at the opposing bench tonight and feel pretty good about themselves. New Jersey’s starting center is Shelden Williams, who barely sniffed the floor in his lone season with the Celtics.

Although Williams has had a respectable season, Humphries is the one big man on New Jersey’s roster whom the Celtics must pay attention to. Humphries has turned himself into a double-double machine and is one of the best rebounders in the game. He is currently seventh in the league with 28 double-doubles and ranks fifth in rebounds with 11.0 per game. He’s coming off of an 18-point, 13-rebound performance against the Sixers last night.

Everyone, including the Celtics, knows that Boston’s weakness is protecting the glass. In order to compete on the glass tonight, the C’s will need to get a body (or two) on Humphries every time the ball goes up.

Take it Away, Captain

Paul Pierce has been great this season, and he’s been even greater against the Nets. In two games against New Jersey this season, Pierce is putting up 25.5 PPG on 64.3 percent shooting.

Wallace would have been a fantastic addition for the Nets in terms of slowing down Pierce’s roll against them. Without Wallace in the lineup, though, New Jersey will be in the same position it was in the first two times these two teams met, and that position is not a good one.

Pierce has had just nine games (out of 25) since the beginning of March in which he has failed to score 20 points. One of those games came last night in Toronto, but don’t expect that to take place again tonight.

Shoot with Confidence

Boston’s offensive performance last night was one of the worst we’ve seen in the Big Three era. The team shot just 37.5 percent from the field and made only 30 field goals on the night.

At times, it seemed as if the Celtics were shooting with a lack of confidence. They took the open shots because they were there, but it didn’t seem as if they believed those shots would fall through the net.

This team is constructed of great shooters. Boston’s starting frontline of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass can hit an open shot in the blink of an eye, and several reserves are great shooters as well.

The Celtics should understand that last night was an aberration. They need to forget about what happened in Toronto and return to their confident offensive play. Boston has shot better than 50 percent from the field against New Jersey this season, and that could happen again tonight.