Game Preview: Celtics at Jazz

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BOSTON - A five-game road trip will finally come to an end for the Boston Celtics (29-27) at 9 p.m. tonight in Utah. They will wrap the trip up against the Jazz (31-25), whom the Celtics defeated 98-93 on Nov. 14 in TD Garden.

Boston is looking to salvage its trip and fly back to the East Coast on a high note. It thrashed the Suns in a victory Friday night in Phoenix but struggled to score against the Trail Blazers last night in Portland, falling 92-86. A win tonight would give the C's a 2-3 record on the trip.

The C’s will certainly need to play better tonight than they did last night if they hope to grab a victory. They made only 42.4 percent of their shots in Portland against a Blazers team that had given up an average of 108.9 points per game to its previous seven opponents.

There were only two Boston players who put forth solid performances on Sunday. Paul Pierce neared a triple-double with 23 points, seven rebounds and a game-high eight assists. Kevin Garnett contributed 20 points and nine boards. No one else on the team scored more than 11 points or grabbed more than five rebounds.

Pierce ironically scored 23 points back in November against the Jazz to lead the Celtics to a victory. Two other players, Jeff Green and Leandro Barbosa, also chipped in 16 points off of the bench to push Boston to a victory. The Celtics may need big performances from Pierce and Green again tonight if they hope to take down the Jazz.

Utah might be the most underrated team in the league. The Jazz currently sit in the seventh seed in the Western Conference and have loads of talent on their roster. That talent, which features five double-digit scorers, has been enough to overcome many of the league’s best teams.

In the last two weeks alone, the Jazz have beaten the Warriors and the Thunder, which are two of the top six seeds in the West. Utah has also beaten Miami, Brooklyn, San Antonio and the Lakers in the past couple of months.

The Jazz might be flying under the public radar but opposing teams know how dangerous they are. Tonight, that opposing team is the Celtics, who need a win to avoid a 1-4 road trip.

Utah’s Size

Utah has fantastic balance across its entire roster but its greatest advantage is its frontline. Former Celtic Al Jefferson, who pours in averages of 17.6 PPG and 9.3 RPG a night, is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder but there are three more bigs who are big time talents. Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are all capable of putting together big games.

That’s a big problem for the Celtics seeing as they have only one true big man, Chris Wilcox, who is logging minutes off of the bench right now. Every other reserve is much more perimeter oriented.

Boston went small against the Jazz in November and that yielded both positive and negative results. The C’s won the game but were outrebounded 47-36. The odds of Boston pulling off another win while being outrebounded are pretty slim, as they’re 16-23 in such instances this season.

Make them Work

The Celtics’ offense was out of whack last night. It shot just 42.4 percent and accumulated only 16 assists. The C’s didn’t move the ball enough to make the Trail Blazers work on defense.

Boston must change that tonight in Utah. The Jazz are a below average defensive team, as they rank 19th in opponent scoring and 21st in opponent field goal percentage. If the Celtics move the ball like they have been for the past couple of weeks they should see some positive results on the scoreboard.

Leave It All Out There

There is no doubt that the C’s will head into this game at a disadvantage. They’ve been out west for a week now and will be playing their fifth game in seven nights. The Jazz, meanwhile, were off yesterday and have played only two games since the All-Star break.

Needless to say, Utah will have a substantial advantage tonight when it comes to energy. The Celtics are probably exhausted but they can look forward to three days off following tonight’s game. With that in mind, they can lay it all on the line as they attempt to overcome a much more rested Utah team.