Watch It! – Celtics at Nets

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

Nets Thriving Against Top Teams

The Celtics have surely learned their lesson by now that the Brooklyn Nets are not a team to be taken lightly. Brooklyn’s 10-23 record is far from pretty, but keep in mind, two of those wins have come against the C’s.

The Nets were not expected to make much noise this season, but they have reeled off some impressive wins against top teams lately.

During their last six contests, they have won on the road in Chicago, Miami and Boston. They’ve also beaten Atlanta, Detroit, took Golden State to overtime on the road and loss to the Cavs by just two in Cleveland.

If the C’s don’t lock in on Brooklyn tonight, the Nets could walk away as winners of the game and season series.

C’s Hurting in the Backcourt

Avery Bradley left Saturday’s game against the Nets with a sore left hip and did not travel with the team to Brooklyn.

AB’s absence creates a sizable void for Boston, especially considering his success against the Nets this season – he averaged 24.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game during its home-and-home series in November.

Backup shooting guard R.J. Hunter’s status is also in question. He suffered a left shoulder subluxation during a Maine Red Claws game Thursday afternoon and then sat out of Saturday’s game.

The backcourt injury woes do not stop there; Marcus Smart, though active, is still not at 100 percent since sustaining a lower left leg injury during a game against the Nets in mid-November. But the sophomore guard will have to step up as he did Saturday, along with backcourt mates Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner and James Young.

Ditto for Brooklyn

While Boston’s backcourt injuries appear to be minor, the Nets suffered a huge setback Saturday afternoon when point guard Jarrett Jack suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Jack’s right leg buckled when he broke to the basket for a fast break layup and he laid on the ground writhing in pain for several moments before being assisted back to the locker room. The injury was initially ruled a knee sprain, but on Sunday it was confirmed that he tore his ACL.

This is a very costly loss for Brooklyn, considering Jack is a major veteran leader and the team’s main facilitator.

“He’s a huge part of what we do on and off the court,” said Brooklyn center Brook Lopez after Saturday’s game. “[He’s a] very vocal presence in the locker room.”

The Nets are also without starting shooting guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who fractured his ankle in early-December.

Establish an Interior Presence

The main focus heading into this game should not be in the backcourt, however; if Saturday’s game was any indication, this contest may be driven through the interior.

Brooklyn’s bigs torched the C’s Saturday afternoon, led by a 30-point, 13-rebound performance by Brook Lopez. He helped the Nets tally 46 points in the paint, including 20 PITP during the first quarter alone.

The Nets’ starting 4 and 5 – Lopez and Thaddeus Young – combined for 46 points and 23 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Boston’s starting 4 and 5 – Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson – totaled just 14 points and 15 boards.

The C’s need to find a way to stop Lopez and Young, who have averaged a combined 36.0 points and 20.7 rebounds during three matchups against Boston this season.

Celts are Driven by Energy

One major reason why Boston’s frontcourt struggled so much Saturday afternoon was because it simply lacked spunk. They missed open layups, were out-hustled for rebounds and the overall body language of the team seemed off.

That’s all unusual for the C’s, who are usually fueled by tenacity.

Saturday was the second straight contest in which Boston lacked energy and, at times, even looked lazy. That trend needs to stop Monday night as soon as the Celtics tip off in Brooklyn.

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