Game Preview: Celtics at Kings

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Tonight’s 9 p.m. meeting between the Boston Celtics (14-15) and Sacramento Kings (10-19) will be the final contest of 2012 for both squads. Which will head into the New Year on a high note?

Both teams desperately need to win this game in order to take some form of momentum into 2013. The Celtics are coming off of their second consecutive convincing loss and are looking to avoid being swept on the West Coast by California teams. The Kings, meanwhile, are in high spirits after their upset victory over the Knicks Friday night.

The Celtics haven’t experienced a winning feeling since they crushed the Nets on Christmas Day, 93-76. They have played two games since then and they’ve been on the other side of a blowout in both of them. The Clippers downed Boston 106-77 Thursday night in L.A., and then Golden State beat the C’s 101-83 last night.

Boston now heads into Sacramento to play on the second night of a back-to-back and for the third time in four days. This game is Boston’s only chance of ending its West Coast swing with a victory under its belt.

There is plenty that needs to change on Boston’s end if it hopes to grab a win tonight in Sacramento. It all begins on the defensive end of the court, where the C’s have given up 103.5 points per game over the last two contests. They’re coming off of what may be their worst defensive effort of the season after allowing Golden State to shoot 52.1 percent from the field and 63.2 percent from 3-point range.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce and the Celtics will look to close out 2012 on a high note tonight in Sacramento.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

“Since I’ve been here we’ve always been a defensive team that has been fueled by our defense and used that to help our offense,” Kevin Garnett said after last night’s loss. “Right now we’re not doing that.”

The C’s also aren’t putting the ball through the basket on the other end of the court. They shot just 36 percent from the field against the Warriors, including a combined 10-for-38 performance from Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.

“It's hard to tell a shooter not to shoot an open shot,” said Doc Rivers. “So as a coach you're kind of stuck; you let them keep taking them and you hope that some go in, and they didn't.”

Boston’s looks at the basket should be even better tonight, all it needs to do is cash in on them. Sacramento gives up nearly 102 points a night and ranks in the bottom third of the league in opponent field goal percentage.

The Kings aren’t exactly concerned with preventing the C’s from scoring. Instead, they’re interested in putting up as many points as they can. When they score, they give themselves a chance at winning. Sacramento averages 106.2 PPG in its 10 wins this season.

While the Kings have scored at a high rate in their wins, they haven’t been consistent with their scoring or winning this season. The same can be said for the Celtics, which is why both of these teams desperately want to end 2012 on a high note.

The Cousins Factor

Every team in the NBA is better when its best player is on the floor. The Sacramento Kings now have theirs back on the floor after a two-game absence.

DeMarcus Cousins, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, was out of action for two games after being suspended by the team for “unprofessional behavior.” He returned to the lineup Friday night and helped to lead the Kings to an upset victory over the New York Knicks with 15 points and 10 boards. He’ll be back out on the floor again tonight looking to lead his team to another important victory.

Will Rondo Play?

Rajon Rondo missed Saturday night’s game with a bruised hip and thigh. He is listed as a game-time decision for tonight’s game.

Rondo’s availability is critical for the Celtics. As we all know by now, he is the engine that makes Boston’s offense go. He leads the NBA in assists with 11.7 per game and his ability to hit the jump shot has opened things up for his teammates, too.

If Rondo doesn’t play, the Celtics will resort to much more one-on-one play at the offensive end and that led to very poor shooting last night. The hope is that the C’s can stave off a similar performance if their All-Star point guard isn’t available.

Not a Cake Walk

Sacramento may be 10-19 on the season, but what must be taken into consideration tonight is that it is 9-7 at home. That’s as many home victories as the Celtics have, which tells you that the Kings have been pretty impressive at home.

There’s clearly something about Power Balance Pavilion that gets the Kings hyped up to play. They’ve beaten some really good teams at home, including the Knicks, the Warriors, the Jazz and the Lakers. The Celtics cannot afford to walk into this game thinking that a win is already theirs to be had. This will be a fight to the finish.