Game Preview: 76ers at Celtics (preseason)

BOSTON - The Celtics have already gone through morning conditioning and an afternoon practice. Now it’s time to get on the court and play an actual game tonight.

Boston opens its eight-game preseason schedule at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Manchester, N.H., against the Philadelphia 76ers. Tonight’s game will mark the beginning of an eight-day span in which the C’s will play five games in five different cities.

According to Doc Rivers’ statements after Tuesday’s practice, the expectation is that the starters will see limited action tonight in the Verizon Wireless Arena due to his plan to run conditioning and practice today in Waltham, Mass. Despite that possibility, Paul Pierce and his fellow starters still have goals to accomplish in their first tune-up game before the Oct. 26 opener against the Miami Heat.

“Just to kind of be sharp,” Pierce said of his goals for tonight’s game. “I want to go out there and not look sloppy, play within the team framework. Just give a decent showing.”

At the same time, Pierce knows the likelihood of this game being a bit sloppy is much higher than it will be a week from now.

“I’ve been playing this game 13 years, and I know how these games go,” said Pierce. “So, you’re really conscious of the turnovers, I think that’s the main thing. Usually there’s a lot of turnovers in the beginning, so hopefully I can just focus on that and kind of look sharp.”

The entire team will attempt to look sharp against 76ers squad that is trying to revitalize itself with new head coach Doug Collins and No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner. The team also acquired Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni from Sacramento this summer and recently acquired the 21st overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft, Craig Brackins, from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Needless to say, the Sixers have a much different look this season and hope to rebound from a 27-55 season in 2009-10.

Philadelphia enters tonight’s game with an 0-1 record, having lost 103-96 to the Nets Tuesday night, while the Celtics will be playing in their first exhibition game.

Vets vs. Youngsters

Although the Sixers have steady veterans like Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Nocioni on their roster, the majority of the team is filled with youth. Jrue Holiday (second year), Thaddeus Young (fourth year) and Spencer Hawes (fourth year) are all in the starting lineup, while Turner, Brackins and Marreese Speights (third year) will be leaned on heavily to perform off the bench.

Tonight, those youngsters will be taking on a Celtics roster that is basically the exact opposite. We all know about Boston’s starters, but even the second unit has a considerable advantage over the Sixers in terms of years in the league and playoff experience. We’re sure to see some time out of rookies Luke Harangody and Semih Erden, but most of the minutes will be eaten up by seasoned vets who are looking to prove a point off the bench.

PF’s Return to Glory?

Two of the league’s top power forwards of the last decade, Kevin Garnett and Elton Brand, have each undergone surgeries in the recent past and are looking to return to the top-flight performances they have become known for.

Garnett played in 92 games last season, including the playoffs, but lacked the explosiveness at both ends of the court that often dominates Boston’s opponents. Coaches and players alike have claimed throughout training camp that KG is back, and back in top form.

After one practice in Newport, R.I., Rivers proclaimed Garnett “unguardable,” and said that if his power forward plays that way all season, the C’s will be very tough to beat.

Brand, on the other hand, has had a much tougher road in returning to the type of play that garnered an $80 million contract from Philadelphia in the summer of 2008. He has struggled with injuries, systems and coaches since his arrival in Philadelphia, but seems to have the backing from his coach this season and may be primed for a big comeback year. He dropped 15 points in only 22 minutes of playing time Tuesday night against New Jersey.

Reaction to Back-to-Backs

Teams play the preseason in order to prepare for the regular season, and a big part of that is scheduling back-to-back games to get the players’ bodies used to the quick turnarounds.

The 76ers will be playing in the second night of a back-to-back tonight, as they took on the Nets in New Jersey last night. With this being their first back-to-back of the season, it’s likely that their players will be a bit winded throughout the game.

Boston will be tipping off its first night of a back-to-back that will wrap up Thursday night in New Jersey. With this being their first game of the year and second game scheduled for tomorrow, the reserves will eat up most of the minutes against Philadelphia while allowing the starters to take it slow in these first game nights of the season.