Preview: Celtics (23-7) at Suns (20-12)

Suns 116, Celtics 98





PHOENIX — It’s amazing how different this Phoenix Suns team is when it plays with energy.

At their most energetic Monday against the Lakers, the Suns looked like world beaters. On the flip side, when they don’t have that pop their defense is less than ordinary, their rebounding is atrocious and their ferocious offense doesn’t pack the same punch.

Another example of the Suns playing with energy came back on Nov. 6 in Boston, when the Suns led essentially from wire to wire to stun the Celtics.

Already the only NBA team to take down both the Lakers and Celtics, not to mention the Magic, the Suns will look to get greedy tonight in US Airways Center when they attempt to sweep the season series from mighty Boston.

Even with Paul Pierce out with an infected right knee, this is an elite team with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo at the controls. The Celtics, an NBA-best 13-3 away from Massachusetts, will also be hopping mad after losing back-to-back games at the Pacific Division cellar-dwelling Clippers and Warriors.

“Another easy one, yeah sure,” Gentry said sarcastically after dispatching the Lakers. “We play another great team. One year removed from being the NBA champs and they basically have that same group of guys and a more mature, better Rondo, and they added Rasheed Wallace. Nothing is easy.”

With Pierce out, the Suns will be playing another top team without its small forward after the Lakers’ Ron Artest missed the last contest. Forgetting for a second that The Truth averages a team-best 18.2 a game, his absence makes a Boston bench that’s weak to begin with even weaker.

The Suns’ bench, meanwhile, was the difference against the Lakers. By now the Suns know they can expect big contributions from Jared Dudley, LB and even Goran Dragic. But the wildcard in slowing down the Lakers’ bigs was second-year center Robin Lopez.

Lopez played what was, in my opinion, his best game as a pro. This wasn’t garbage time or at the end of the year when the Suns were out of it, this was crucial minutes against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol that led to Phoenix’s biggest win of the year.

Lopez scored eight points, grabbed five boards and blocked a shot in 21 minutes of real rotation time. He played with the starters in the first quarter and at the end of the second and then was part of the reserves unit that sealed the win in the fourth.

Gentry said Lopez’s time depends on the matchups. He wasn’t about to stick him on a Corey Maggette or Anthony Randolph in Golden State, but he was a vital part of slowing down Los Angeles’ bigs. Gentry plans to use Lopez against bigger teams, and that means tonight against KG and Kendrick Perkins. That could mean less time for Lou Amundson, who has been playing very well but only logged five minutes against the Lakers.

After his solid performance, Lopez was beaming about finally making a contribution to a Suns team that stared 12-3 without him but more or less has been bumbling ever since.

“Obviously I was coming back to a very good team,” Lopez said. “I didn’t want to disrupt anything. I was taking my minutes whenever I could get them. That’s how it is when you’re playing on a good team. Hopefully this game will lead to more performances like this.”

Before the Suns beat the Lakers, Gentry spoke about how it’s difficult to draw many conclusions from one game against an elite opponent if the opposing team doesn’t play well, and that’s exactly the situation that played out on Monday night.

But if the Suns can go out and beat the NBA’s two best teams in consecutive games, that would make as much of a statement as Phoenix’s 5-9 December record entering this week.

UPDATE: Garnett, Rondo could be out, too

We already knew that Pierce and then Glen Davis (mild right ankle sprain) would be out against the Suns. Now is reporting that Garnett (sore right knee) and Rondo (sore left hamstring) could be out as well. That would leave Ray Allen, Wallace and not much else for the guys in green.

Garnett and Rondo both took part in Wednesday’s shootaround. Rondo is more likely to play than Garnett, according to the report.

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Wednesday, Oct 2222 Oct7:30at Los Angeles ClippersBuy Tickets

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