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“Guaranteed Win Day” Notebook

As Boston gets ready for tonight’s game against the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers (safe bet: Mike will predict a Celtics victory in his game preview this evening and make either a couple of jokes at the Cav’s expense or pity them) let’s have a look at a few things bubbling under in Celticsland:

WEEI’s Paul Flannery gives us a couple of things to talk about as he hones in on the C’s tendency to punt the odd game to lesser opponents:

The Celtics have lost 10 games this season, and five have come against teams with losing records.

To put this in perspective, the Celtics are 15-5 against teams with losing records, while the Miami Heat are 23-3. The flipside is that the Celtics are 18-5 against teams over .500, while Miami is only 8-10. So while the Celtics are routinely beating the best teams in the league, they have also suffered the occasional misstep.

Basically, if the Celtics took care of business in the games they were supposed to win, they’d be the Spurs who are 21-1 against sub .500 teams and leading the West by a healthy margin.

By now, we know the Celtics can beat any team in the league when they’re dialed in. So, the only real point with these bad losses to bad teams is, as Flannery notes, how it affects playoff seeding. As the C’s injuries subside, even this problem should vanish as the second half of the season rolls along. The Celtics, with both Delonte West and Kendrick Perkins back, should be able to mail in portions of games and still come out with the W.

That isn’t exactly worth celebrating. I don’t like watching the C’s dog it anymore than you guys do. But that’s where we’re probably headed – a talent and execution gap between the Celtics and the also-rans so large that even half-efforts will be sufficient to beat them through the remainder of the winter. Keep in mind many of these teams will transition to a “playing out the stretch” mindset as the playoffs become more a dream than a possibility.

Flannery also had a nice insight into two ongoing sources of worry with this team: pace and crunch-time scoring.

The Wizards loss was a classic case of fool’s gold. After scoring 35 points in the first quarter, the offense ground to a halt. The litany of sins included too many jump shots, not enough touches on the post and too little urgency in getting into sets.

Rivers didn’t like the pace, but he was quick to deflect criticism from his point guard, Rajon Rondo. By his count there were 10 times when Rondo was up the floor, but had to wait while players walked into position. The Celtics don’t have a lot of players who can get their own shot when the 24-second clock is winding down, so it’s imperative that they get into their sets quickly and use the time to set up the best possible shot. (You can see how their shooting numbers sink like a stone late in the shot clock at 82games.com).

How many times in the last three years have we seen Rondo look over his shoulder, waiting for his teammates to catch up as he moves the ball across the timeline? The price to be paid for returning an aging team year after year, without adding the kind of athletes that can run with Rondo, is leaving offense on the table. Danny Ainge has done a superb job adding depth to this team despite his significant payroll constraints, and the Celtics are reaping the benefits, with guys like Semih Erden and Luke Harangody contributing meaningfully to victories. But this offense is far from unstoppable, particularly when it only gets going with 12 seconds left on the shot clock.

And that should never happen.

Without an elite scorer like a Lebron James or Derrick Rose to create a basket in the dying seconds of the shot clock, the C’s must get themselves into their halfcourt offense quickly to maximize the returns on their great team passing. We’ve talked about this ad nauseum, but on a team with spectacular shooters, the C’s need to make sure they get them good looks.

Because neither of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (and Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett for that matter) are spectacular scorers like they were five or six years ago. It’d be nice if the C’s could spread the floor, put someone into ISO, and let them pour in the fourth quarter points. But they can’t. So they have to get into what they can do, quickly.

QUICK HITS

As Brian noted yesterday, the C’s intend to hold Kendrick Perkins out until February 4, despite the fact that he is lobbying to play tonight against the Cavs. On one hand, I see the logic of putting him out there tonight, in what amounts to a warm-up game against a team struggling like no other has done this year. But with the improving play of Erden, and with Harangody waiting in the wings, there’s hardly any rush.

Still, wouldn’t you love to see him out there against the Lakers on Sunday?

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Have you noticed Rondo give up his own clear path layup in favor of dishing off to one of his teammates the last few weeks? Depending on what part of the blogosphere you frequent, he’s taken some heat for that, the implication being that he’s just padding his assist numbers. Another way to look at it: Rondo is getting his shooters touches, however he can. He gets regular praise from his coach and teammates for his conscientiousness in keeping everyone involved. These layups are just another way of keeping guys in the flow of the game. It’s the same reason Rivers uses Perk to handle the ball at the free throw line early in offensive sets. To keep him engaged. I’d submit that may be all Rondo’s doing.

Plus, does he really need more help juicing up his assist totals?

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Lastly, here’s a cool little tribute from nba.com to Paul Pierce and his bag of tricks. When Kris Humphries respects you, you know you’re good.