Christmas Matinee Means Nets vs. Celtics, Round 3


After a Sunday victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Brooklyn Nets play host to the Boston Celtics in a Christmas matinee that promises to be an intense matchup between Atlantic Division rivals. Just one month ago, Brooklyn left Boston with a 10-4 record, having dispatched the Celtics, 95-83. That game included an altercation between Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries that resulted in both players being ejected; Rondo was additionally suspended two games for his role as instigator.

But Brook Lopez went down late in that game with a mild foot sprain, and the Nets have dropped 8 of 12 games since, even as Lopez returned after a seven-game absence.

"We’re a different team right now," Johnson said. "We were playing like we had a lot to prove: we were on the road, we felt like an underdog. Somewhere along the way we started to feel differently about ourselves and we lost Brook. Right now, it’s not like we’re on scome crazy roll or a winning streak. We need this game tomorrow just as much as they do."

The Nets will compete with a revamped starting lineup, playing Gerald Wallace at power forward alongside Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Keith Bogans and Lopez. Johnson explained the shift – first utilized against the Sixers – as a function of improved spacing and offensive efficiency, both of which theoretically improve the team's transition defense.

Humphries didn't get off the bench Sunday, and Johnson said that the power forward was held out of Monday's practice with an "abdominal muscle issue," and had an afternoon doctor's appointment scheduled once the pain worsened. With Humphries' minutes expected to be "inconsistent" moving forward, Johnson said that backup center Andray Blatche will occasionally play power forward next to Lopez, a combination that has been on the floor for just one minute this season, according to NBA.com/Stats.

"That’s something you’re going to see," Johnson said. "(Assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo) has been on me the whole season about it. We need to get there, but it’s hard to get there if we’re playing Reggie (Evans) at 4, Humphries at 4 and Gerald at 4. Now with one of those guys out, maybe we can get to it a little bit more."

Beyond the Lopez-Blatche pairing, Wallace's passing ability at power forward helps open up the offense, especially in transition. With Wallace more often defending the post, he's in better position to rebound and turn upcourt, igniting the break.

And that quickness will come into play throughout Tuesday's matchup against Kevin Garnett, whom Doc Rivers has shifted back to power forward now that former Net Jason Collins is manning the middle for the Celtics.

"I’ve gotta take advantage of it," Wallace said. "That’s probably the only thing I’ve got on him. He’s six inches taller than me, weighs more than me. I just have to use my quickness and hope my quickness outdoes his age."

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