Preview: Phoenix Suns (12-24) at Boston Celtics (17-17)

Boston Celtics 87, Phoenix Suns 79

Suns

Suns

Celtics

Celtics

The first 36 games of the season are gone, and it’s already that point of the season.

People are already beginning to count the Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoff equation — they’ll certainly have to make a stellar run at some point to change that — so the much worse-off Suns could very well be resigned to looking forward to the NBA Draft. Obviously, there’s still a large number of games for Phoenix to build upon something positive.

At this point, however, most teams have found their identity — or they already know it. The Boston Celtics put it off, but certainly they’ve begun to lock into their usual success. Unfortunately for Phoenix and head coach Alvin Gentry, they’ll head to T.D. Garden on Wednesday to face a team on a three-game winning streak, a team that has harnessed enough of its old swagger to get under Carmelo Anthony’s thick skin.

Phoenix could only wish it had a similar blueprint for success.

Boston will have a fresh Rajon Rondo in tow after the dynamic point guard served a one-game suspension on Monday against the New York Knicks for bumping into official Rodney Mott during Saturday’s game against Atlanta. The Celtics won without their motor, and Kevin Garnett jabbered enough to spur Anthony’s wait at the bus stop. It was a significant outcome for the Boston team that has gone 17-17 thus far but is picking up steam at a critical point in the year for most NBA clubs.

The jolt in Boston’s meanstreak has led to strong defensive efforts, and the Celtics have held opponents in the last three games to 37.6 percent shooting.

Even worse news for the Suns is Boston’s affinity for the mid-range jumper — the team hits 44.8 percent of those to lead the NBA, according to HoopData.com. As CelticsHub.com’s Michael Pina pointed out this week, Doc Rivers’ team could use more three-point shooting. But lucky for them, Phoenix not only allows the highest effective three-point field goal percentage but also the highest overall percentage (42.3 percent) for shots 16-23 feet out, according to HoopData.com.

That may be why Garnett, one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, is averaging 24.6 points and 11.8 rebounds against Phoenix in his last 17 meetings with the Suns.

While Phoenix’s defensive efforts have been hard to judge — perhaps because they’re so inconsistent — the numbers show the Suns’ habits won’t match up well with Boston.

There’s clarity in where the Suns are going this year, and it’d be a surprise if the Celtics did anything but do enough in the regular season to make the playoffs.

Boston will continue to do what they’ve done for the entirety of the Garnett era. Meanwhile, the lost Suns wish they had such a past to at least give them an idea of what they should expect from themselves.

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