Game Preview: Celtics at Nets
After the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics completed their blockbuster trade last summer, few likely expected Boston to be atop the Atlantic Division with Brooklyn fighting to stay out of last place.
But that's exactly where these clubs stand heading into Tuesday night's meeting in Brooklyn.
Agreed upon in principle on the night of the draft, the teams officially completed a deal in July that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston to Brooklyn in exchange for Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph and first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
Brooklyn was clearly mortgaging its future while trying to achieve immediate success.
"This team will be dazzling to watch and tough to compete against," owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a statement.
Prokhorov's declaration has been a fry cry from reality under first-year coach Jason Kidd. The 6-14 Nets are only ahead of the 5-14 Knicks in the Atlantic Division, while surprising Boston sits in first place.
Garnett is averaging career lows with 6.4 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting. Pierce was also averaging personal worsts with 12.4 points and a 36.8 field-goal percentage before missing the last five games due to a non-displaced fracture in his right hand. There's a chance he could play Tuesday against the club he scored more than 24,000 points for over 15 seasons, though he's considered doubtful.
The Nets should be bolstered by the return of point guard Deron Williams, who is expected to play for the first time since re-injuring his left ankle Nov. 20. Timetables are still unclear for the returns of Terry (knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (back).
However, even as Brooklyn gets healthier, the team will likely need more time to properly gel together.
"Chemistry just doesn't snap and you wave a magic wand and, 'Voila!'" Garnett, who will be playing his first game versus Boston since March 4, 2007, told the team's website. "Those things play a big part."
Brook Lopez has seemingly been the one constant for the Nets, scoring a season-high 32 points and going 11 of 13 from the field in a 90-82 win in Milwaukee on Saturday despite facing numerous double teams.
"That's who he is," Kidd said of Lopez, whose 20.6 scoring average is the highest of his career. "He's a guy who demands attention. Again, he's seen a lot of double teams in his young career. He's making all the right plays. He's letting guys get to their spots."
The youth-laden Celtics - whose oldest starter is the 28-year-old Brandon Bass - have won three in a row and six of eight. Their 114-73 victory over the Knicks on Sunday was the league's most lopsided game this season.
Converted point guard Jordan Crawford had 23 points on a career-high six 3-pointers to go along with seven assists. He's averaging 23.3 points over his last three contests while shooting 61.0 percent from the field.
"It was just fun to get a win like that in here because I've been on the other side of it a couple times," Crawford said. "It's good to get a win against the division."
The Celtics enjoyed another hot start, racing out to a 25-3 lead. They're averaging 31.2 points in the first quarter of their last five games while shooting 57.8 percent and holding opponents to 15.6 points.
Joe Johnson is averaging 20.5 points in his last 11 games versus Boston while shooting 48.3 percent from 3-point range.
The Celtics will be in for another reunion Wednesday when they welcome home former coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers.