Game Preview: Celtics at Raptors

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The dreaded back-to-back-to-back has finally arrived.

The Boston Celtics (34-24) will tip off their three-games-in-three-nights set when they take on the Raptors (20-39) at 7 p.m. tonight in Toronto. Boston carries a league-best four-game winning streak into the contest, while Toronto has dropped four in a row.

Each NBA team was dealt one of these scenarios when the condensed 2011-12 schedule was released in December. Prior to the season tipping off on Christmas Day, none of the league’s coaches knew how they were going to handle such a stretch of games. According to Doc Rivers, he still doesn’t know how he’ll deal with his despite receiving advice from several other coaches around the league.

“I don’t know. I’ve never gone through it,” Rivers said of what his plan is for the next three games. “I’ve talked to some coaches who’ve already been through it, and it’s amazing how wide that horizon is. I wish I hadn’t called any of them, because that did nothing but confuse you even more.”

Thanks to that confusion, Rivers has said that he won’t script out a plan heading into these three games. Instead, he’ll rely on what he sees to tell him what to do.

“I’m just going to play it by ear and watch our guys,” he said. “There’s a chance they all play in every game; there’s a chance three or four miss one game or we split it up. We’re all over the place on that one.”

One thing we should expect is to see all of the Celtics on the floor tonight in Toronto, with the exception of Ray Allen. Allen did not travel with the team for this game due to lingering pain in his right ankle. Everyone else, however, is available and ready to go.

Tonight’s lineup should be exactly what we saw when Boston took on the Hawks Wednesday night. That group, which was led by 22- and 21-point nights from Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, respectively, overcame several obstacles to grab an important victory over a possible playoff opponent. There is no doubt that the Celtics are riding high into Toronto.

That’s not good news for a Raptors team that is playing its worst basketball since February. Toronto has lost four straight games by an average of 10.8 points. It is coming off of an 18-point defeat at the hands of Philadelphia, a game in which the Raptors trailed by as many as 23 points.

Toronto heads into tonight’s contest ranked 27th in the league in scoring with just 91.3 PPG. Its offense becomes even more putrid against the Celtics, as the Raptors have scored just 74.3 PPG in three contests against Boston this season. The Raps did, however, grab a win the last time these teams met. The C’s fell 86-74 on Feb. 10 in Toronto.

Although that loss arrived more than two months ago, it should play a role in motivating Boston tonight. The C’s will want to prove that their last performance in Toronto was a fluke, and they’ll also want to start this difficult stretch of games out on a winning note.

Rondo vs. Calderon

Rajon Rondo has been on an absolute tear with his ability to rack up assists lately. He now leads the league in assists and has dished out at least 10 dimes in 19 straight games, which is the longest streak in 20 years. Tonight’s opposing point guard, however, has had Rondo’s number this season.

Jose Calderon lit up Rondo and the Celtics back on Feb. 10 to the tune of 17 points, four rebounds and 14 assists. Calderon did not commit a single turnover in that contest. Meanwhile, Rondo struggled to a 2-of-10 shooting performance and totaled just five points and seven assists.

Rondo averages just 4.5 APG in two games against Calderon and the Raptors this season. However, this Rondo is much different than the one the Raptors saw earlier a couple of months ago. The hope is that this version will outplay Calderon in a landslide tonight.

No Bargs for Toronto

Andrea Bargnani, by far the best player on Toronto’s roster, was placed on the inactive list on April 9 with left calf tightness. Without Bargnani in the lineup, Toronto is just 7-20 this season.

When Toronto is forced to play without its big man its offense is much easier to defend. DeMar DeRozan is probably Toronto’s best offensive player outside of Bargnani, but DeRozan is shooting just 42.0 percent this season.

Boston has limited Toronto to just 74.3 PPG in three meetings this season, and without Bargnani tonight, the Raptors may score close to that number. The Celtics’ defense is on a tear, and that tear shouldn’t come to an end tonight.

Get Some Rest

One of the keys to this back-to-back-to-back stretch is the fact that Boston has been dealt three sub-.500 opponents. All three teams the Celtics will take on have 21 wins or less on the season.

With the way Boston is playing right now, it should be able to handle all three of these opponents, especially the Raptors tonight. The Celtics are coming off of a day of rest and shouldn’t have any issues with energy. If they are able to blow this game open and get their key players some rest, it will help them greatly in their attempt to win their games on Saturday and Sunday as well.