Preview: Boston Celtics (28-26) at Phoenix Suns (18-37)

Time: 7:00 pm MST



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After an anticlimactic trade deadline, the Phoenix Suns will get back to business tonight as they host the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo four weeks ago today. In the immediate aftermath of Rondo’s ACL injury, Boston reeled off seven wins in a row, their longest streak of the season. Since then, they’ve come back to Earth losing three of their last four. The Celtics, like the Suns, were rumored to be fishing for a big piece yesterday. But ultimately, all Boston landed was Jordan Crawford from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Jason Collins and an injured Leandro Barbosa. Not exactly the kind of acquisition that would cement Boston’s playoff hopes.

Currently, the Celtics are seventh in the Eastern Conference, a game and a half up on the Milwaukee Bucks who just traded for sharp shooter J.J. Redick. Like the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics playoff chances are tenuous at best despite their vast experience and pedigree. Boston is in the middle of a five game Western Conference road trip. They visit Phoenix tonight after losses at Denver and the Lakers earlier this week.

This is a very winnable game for the Suns. Boston may have a winning record, but their weaknesses (frontline depth, rebounding, scoring) are areas the Suns can exploit if they come to play tonight.

There are plenty of holes in Boston’s frontcourt. While Kevin Garnett is still productive on both ends of the floor, he’s undersized as a center and doesn’t rebound like he used to. Fellow starter Brandon Bass is also undersized and a below-average rebounder for a power forward. Jared Sullinger is hurt and out for the season. Jason Collins now plays for the Wizards. Jeff Green is really a small forward. And Fab Melo is, well, Fab Melo. The Suns chief objective tonight has to be to pound the paint continually on offense. KG is still a defensive presence inside, but Scola, Gortat, and Beasley should be able to overwhelm Boston on size alone. Throw in a possibly rejuvenated Markieff Morris and Jermaine O’Neal in the middle of a hot streak and facing his former team, and I fully expect the Suns to have 45-50 points in the paint tonight.

Another key for Phoenix’s big men is controlling the boards. The Celtics are last in the NBA in rebound rate according to John Hollinger’s stats. While Phoenix isn’t much better (23rd), it’s still a weakness the Suns have to exploit. Phoenix has improved their rebounding since the All Star break. They decimated Portland on the boards Tuesday night and hung with the Warriors on Wednesday (Golden State is 10th in rebound rate and 4th in rebounds per game.) If the Suns can limit the Celtics anemic offense to one shot and generate extra possessions on the offensive glass, they’ll have an excellent shot to send Boston to its third loss in a row.

The key matchup on the perimeter will be Avery Bradley versus Goran Dragic. Dragic has posted back-to-back double-doubles this week. Bradley, however, is a much better defender than anyone the Trail Blazers or Warriors threw at him. Goran does have size on Bradley, but he will have his work cut out for him nonetheless.

Another player to watch is Wesley Johnson. Johnson has become a big part of the Suns’ rotation in the last two games. This increase in his playing time, along with the Telfair trade, is just further proof that Lindsey Hunter’s youth movement is now in full effect.

And 1

  1. Neither Marcus Morris or Haddadi will be available for tonight’s game. Morris could make his debut on Sunday against San Antonio on Sunday according to Paul Coro.
  2. Jermaine O’Neal has said he will not ask for a buyout before the March 1st deadline. Seems fairly clear that working with the Suns’ training staff is more important to O’Neal this season than chasing a playoff spot. O’Neal is playing his best basketball of the season right now.

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