Watch It! - Nets at Celtics

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

Don’t Look at the Record

Everyone sees Brooklyn’s 2-10 record. But not everyone sees how competitive the Nets have actually been of late.

Brooklyn nearly strung together a five-game winning streak over the past 10 days. It beat Houston, lost to Sacramento by two, fell in overtime to the undefeated Warriors, beat Atlanta, and then fell by five to Charlotte. This team is not at poor as its record indicates, and the C’s are taking notice.

“You can tell, there’s a great deal of urgency in their play,” Brad Stevens said after Thursday’s practice. “I’ve watched Jarrett Jack, (Brook) Lopez, Joe (Johnson), Thaddeus (Young). Those guys have all been playing really well, and they’ve got great energy from their young guys, from their bench.”

Throw all of that together and this will be no cakewalk for Boston. The C’s can’t look at Brooklyn’s record. Instead, they should look at the talent the Nets will send onto the floor.

Find Some Efficiency

There has been plenty of talk about Boston’s defense this season. It currently ranks third in the league in defensive rating. But what about the offense? How’s that doing?

Let’s just say the numbers aren’t very good. The C’s offense has nearly been as bad as their defense has been good. Boston enters play tonight ranked 19th in the league in offensive rating, at an even mark of 100.0. The team is hitting only 42.6 percent of its field goals (23rd in the league) and 30.2 percent of its 3s (27th in the league).

We all know that defense wins championships, but the C’s are going to need to improve their offensive efficiency if they’re going to win games consistently. Hopefully that will start tonight.

C’s Can Stop Brook Lopez

Lopez is a former All-Star who is regarded by many as one of the top offensive centers in the league. However, he hasn’t been too dominant against Boston during the Stevens era.

Stevens’ defense has limited Lopez to averages of just 17.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game over the past two seasons. The 7-footer’s miniscule rebounding average is an indication that he hasn’t been able to handle Boston’s physicality or tendency to play small ball.

Ironically, Lopez is one of Brooklyn’s best matchups against Boston seeing as the C’s lack true centers. The big man hasn’t had much luck against Boston over the past couple of seasons but the Nets may still go to him tonight. Look for Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller to defend him during this game.

Bench vs. Starters

The Celtics have been raving about their depth since the preseason. Tonight, that depth is going to need to bring its A-game.

Four of Brooklyn’s starters average at least 31.1 minutes of action per game. Johnson, the team’s starting shooting guard, leads the group with an average of 35.3 minutes of action. Compare those numbers to the Celtics, who have not a single player averaging 31 minutes of playing time a night, and you’ll find a drastic difference.

Boston uses its depth to its advantage by dispersing its minutes across the board. Seven players are averaging at least 23.6 minutes of action, and nine are averaging at least 15.7 minutes. As such, the team’s second unit, highlighted by guys like Evan Turner and Kelly Olynyk, will see plenty of action against Brooklyn’s starters tonight.

Sully’s on a Roll

Sullinger continues to sizzle with his best season as a pro. His recent six-game stretch has been outstanding.

The big man has averaged 14.7 points and 14.0 rebounds per 36 minutes over his last six games. His shooting numbers during that stretch, at 41.4 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from long range, aren’t ideal but they are skewed by a 3-for-11 performance in Oklahoma City.

There is no question as to whether or not Sullinger has been Boston’s top big man this season. He has been, particularly during this recent stretch. Considering Lopez’s struggles against the C’s over the past couple of seasons, Sully could be in for a huge night in the rebound department while also contributing at the offensive end.


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