Celtics: 47-14: Offensive Efficiency 110.9 (5th); Defensive Efficiency 100.9 (1st)
Nets: 27-33; Offensive Efficiency 108.0 (16th); Defensive Efficiency 110.5 (25th)
Season Series: 2-0, Boston
Jan. 14: 118-86 (home)
Jan. 17: 105-85 (away)
To use a little baseball talk, the Celtics are two games out in the loss column with 21 games to go, and they’ve got three straight tough games after this should-be lay-up against New Jersey: home against Cleveland and Orlando, then on the road against Miami. If the C’s want to catch the Cavs for home court, playing well (3-1 at least) in the next four games is pretty much essential, which makes beating the Nets tonight pretty much essential.
On the surface, this is an easy one. The C’s have dominated both meetings this year, the Nets played last night at Milwaukee and Vince Carter’s in a bad, bad shooting slump (36-of-100 from the floor in his last six games, including a 5-of-20 stink bomb last night).
There’s stuff beyond the surface, though. We can start with the fact that the C’s are a pedestrian 6-5 over their last 11, with the losses (and wins, even) getting sloppier as KG’s absence gets longer. You can add that the Nets are solid on second-nighters (10-7). The C’s are missing Scal and Tony Allen and KG, and…
You know what? This is still a 47-14 Celtics team at home on the road against a Nets team that is 25th in the league in defensive efficiency and can’t guard the three-point line at all. Opponents shoot 39.8 percent against New Jersey from deep, the second-worst mark in the league (only the Kings are worse). The C’s have made 22 of 46 threes this season against the Nets, and the swamp-dwellers don’t help their cause much in this category by playing a lot of zone on defense. Expect Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (playing less than 40 minutes tonight, please) to get a lot of open looks.
The Nets offense revolves around Carter and Harris doing the the drive-and-dish thing and working with Brook Lopez on high screen-rolls. Pierce and Rondo have contained Carter and Harris this year, albeit in a short sample size, since the C’s crushed the Nets so badly in their second meeting on January 17th that li’l coach Lawrence Frank benched them for the entire second half. (Total stats for the two games: Carter 3-of-18, 9 points; Harris, 7-15, 21 points). If you cut off the penetration and organize the defensive rotations in a way that limits corner three-pointers (both Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes love ’em, especially Dooling), the Nets have nowhere else to go.
Except for Lopez in the post. Lopez went off for 28 in the most recent game between these teams, but Perkins missed that game, and the one before it, so the rookie will get his first test against the Beast tonight. Lopez has a nice jumper from 15- to 18-feet out, so look for him to try and drag Perk away from the rim a bit.
Other things we’ll be watching for tonight:
• Does Big Baby continue his hot shooting?
• The continued integration of Stephon Marbury. Compared with guarding Walter Herrmann and Rip Hamilton, this match-up presents a more natural role for Steph: he comes in when Dooling plays and guards Keyon on defense.
• Playing time for Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens. Let’s see if Doc lives up to his word and gets these guys in for a few minutes each. Anything to avoid a repeat of Sunday’s 47-minute, 42-second marathon for Pierce.