Watch It! - Bobcats at Celtics

Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight night at TD Garden.

A Shortened Rotation?

Rajon Rondo takes a layup in Atlanta

Rajon Rondo played a game-high 40 minutes Wednesday night as Brad Stevens opted to go with a shortened rotation.
Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images

The Celtics are coming off of a loss at the hands of the Hawks during a game in which Brad Stevens used a playoff-like rotation. Stevens essentially went with an eight-man rotation that included Jerryd Bayless, Kelly Olynyk and Chris Johnson coming off the bench. The only other Celtics reserves who appeared in the game, Phil Pressey and Joel Anthony, played just three minutes apiece.

Stevens likely went with a short rotation for two reasons. First of all, his options are limited due to injuries. Four of Boston’s 15 players are currently unavailable to play, and four of the team’s six available reserves are either rookies or former D-Leaguers. Secondly, the Celtics have less than a week remaining in the regular season. It’s time to empty the tank, meaning Stevens can give his starters big minutes without worry of fatigue down the road.

Not Your Typical ‘Cats

When you think of the Charlotte Bobcats, you don’t typically think of the word “playoffs.” This season, you’d better.

The Bobcats have clinched the second playoff berth in their short history and are currently slated in as the sixth seed in the East. Charlotte could potentially move up to the fifth seed but it's more likely to battle with Washington, which it just defeated Wednesday night, for the sixth seed. The Bobcats and the Wizards are tied with a 40-38 record.

The Bobcats enter tonight’s game having won five consecutive games and have gone 17-8 in their last 25 contests. That’s a pretty impressive run that nearly any team in the league would be happy with.

Charlotte Showcasing Elite Defense

The greatest reason for Charlotte’s ascension has been its defense. First-year head coach Steve Clifford, who was a part of Orlando’s staff during its elite defensive run with Dwight Howard, has turned this team into a dominant force at that end of the court.

Charlotte’s defense has been elite during its five-game winning streak. The Bobcats limited their last five opponents to just 89.8 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting. Those opponents also shot an anemic 28.9 percent from 3-point range.

This could wind up being a long night for Boston at the offensive end of the court. Points may be hard to come by for a team that enters tonight’s game ranked 26th in the NBA in scoring and 28th in field goal percentage.

It’s Been a While

If it’s difficult for you to remember the Celtics and Bobcats facing off this season, there’s a good reason why. These teams haven’t played each other since Nov. 25, less than a month into the regular season.

Each team looks very different now than it did back on that autumn day. Two of the 10 players who appeared in that game for Boston have been traded, and another three are currently unavailable due to injuries. Charlotte, meanwhile, is using the same starting lineup but it has three key additions to its bench. Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour were acquired near the trade deadline, and Chris Douglas-Roberts is now playing major minutes.

It’s been so long since these teams played that tonight’s contest feels like their first meeting of the season. It is, in a sense, when you consider how many parts have changed on each side since their last matchup.

Big Al’s Playing a Big Role

Many questioned the Bobcats when they signed free agent Al Jefferson to a substantial deal this past offseason. Jefferson has gone on to make all of those people look like fools.

The 10th-year big man has played at an incredible level for his new team since settling in after the New Year. In his 46 games since Jan. 1, Jefferson has averaged 24.0 PPG, 10.9 RPG and 2.3 APG. The former Celtic is shooting an impressive 52.7 percent from the field during that span despite being a bulk shooter at 21 field goal attempts per game.

Jefferson isn’t going to win the MVP, but the guy should garner some top-five votes. He has put the Bobcats on his back and taken them to the playoffs.