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I don’t want to sound cocky, but…Clippers @ Celtics

Celtics (53-18, 28-6 at home); Offensive Eff. 110.7 (5th); Defensive Eff. 101.8 (1st)

Clippers (17-53, 7-27 on road); Offensive Eff. 102.4 (Dead freakin’ last); Defensive Eff. 111.6 (27th)

If ever you could pencil in a win, this should be the game. You’ve got a bad team that’s even worse on the road playing the second game of a back-to-back at a point in the season where everyone just wants it to be over. I mean, I could probably just type the efficiency rankings and leave it at that, but I understand that people come here to read, so I have to come up with something.

Actually, this is sort of an important game for the C’s if you care about getting the second seed–and I’m starting to, now that the team is getting healthy and playing better. After this (apparent) gimme, the C’s have two tough road games, including a game at Orlando that is looking bigger and bigger. A win here, plus a split in the two tough roadies (the second is at Atlanta, a tough place to win), and the C’s finish with (mostly) cupcakes (mostly) at home. A loss here would be a huge slip-up.

Of course, the C’s can play the revenge angle if they want. The Clips took the first meeting, 93-91, on Feb. 25, after Zach Randolph hit his 30th shot (that’s attempts, not makes) of the game with 20 seconds left to put the Clips up one. Paul Pierce missed a top-of-the-key jumper on the next possession, and that was that. It was a sloppy game for the C’s–20 turnovers and five missed free throws (in eight attempts) in the last four minutes, and that’s how you lose a game in which you out-shoot your opponents (47 percent to 44 percent) and attempt 10 more foul shots. Oh, and the C’s also allowed 13 offensive boards to a team in the bottom-third of the league in terms of grabbing offensive boards. Don’t look for that to happen again, since KG will see some time in this game. (He missed the prior meeting). (Also–can Mardy Collins play shut-down defense against Paul Pierce again? I bet Pierce remembers his 7-of-19 performance last month).

Baron Davis said after that win that the Clippers could “be a threat as the end of the season approaches.” They are 2-10 since, though they are a modestly better 2-4 since Chris Kaman finally returned from a bad foot injury.

It will be interesting to see which of the Clipper big men guards Garnett. KG loves to shoot those 20-footers off pick-and-pops, and much has been written about Marcus Camby’s discomfort with venturing too far away from the hoop on defense. (Randolph, obviously, is bad at pretty much everything defensively). That could also help C’s ball-handlers (especially Rondo) get open jumpers on screen/rolls if Camby is unwilling to jump out too far. The Clippers also defend the three poorly (opponents shoot 38 percent from deep, the eighth-highest number in the league), and Kevin Arnovitz at Clipperblog has been harping lately on the Clips’ poor weak-side defense. Watch for some open looks.

Kevin’s also been praising Baron Davis’ unselfish play of late, so that’s something to watch for. (Update: Baron was jacking ’em up again last night, to the tune of 3-of-15). The Clips, I gather, are a much better team when Davis is more selective about his shots (he’s shooting a ghastly 37.2 percent this season) and getting his teammates easy looks. Good news for us: there’s no way he can stick with Rajon Rondo on defense, though Baron can be decent on that end when he’s interested. Look for a solid game tonight from Rajon, who has emerged now as a fourth reliable scorer. Hopefully Big Baby can continue his emergence as an offensive threat tonight as well.

Finally, the C’s should be able to get on the offensive glass; the Clippers are 28th in defensive rebounding percentage, though Kaman figures to help that number some.

Regardless, this should be a win–and it’s an important to go out and get it if the C’s have an interest in that second seed.

One last note: The Clippers are 6-11 on the second night of back-to-backs so far this season–better than their overall winning percentage!

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