Tonight, the Brooklyn Nets will begin another 3-game road trip in Boston against the Celtics. The Nets are coming off their most important victory arguably in franchise history when they defeated the Manhattan Knicks in overtime on Monday. Brooklyn (9-4) has won 3 games in a row and is tied for first place in the Atlantic Division. Boston (8-6) has won two straight, but struggled in their last game, an overtime win over Orlando. I expect the Celtics to be hungry for a statement win in this game.
This game will be yet another big test for the Nets. It will test them on their ability to forget the last game and come out and play another good game against another good team. The team hasn’t won the Atlantic Division since 2006 and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007. They are not used to being favorites against championship contenders like Boston and it will be interesting to see if they can compete at a high level consistently.
Brooklyn is 1-0 against Boston this year. That win came at home in the first nationally televised Nets game on TNT. The Nets won that game by 5 points thanks to 24-point performances from both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. However, Boston did not have Rajon Rondo in that game and they will have him tonight.
Boston has not had a great season and has been inconsistent so far. They have had a few bad losses so far this year, including blowout losses in Detroit and at home against Milwaukee. However, the Celtics should not be worried. This team is filled with veterans and they are only concerned about the playoffs. Last season, they had a slow start too, leading some to demand trading Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. That team came together in the playoffs and made the conference finals. As long as they make the playoffs (which they will), they will be a pretty dangerous team.
Injuries: Brooklyn has no significant injuries. For Boston, Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender, continues to be out and it is still unknown when he will return. He has not played yet this year and the Celtics have gotten used to playing without him.
Deron Williams vs. Rajon Rondo. Advantage: Tie
Rondo has been putting up the better statistics this season, including leading the NBA in assists, but Deron has led his team to a better record. Also, it seems like Rondo’s goal every game is getting at least 10 assists, not winning. This is probably one of the reasons why Rajon and Ray Allen did not get along. In a recent blowout loss to the Pistons, Rondo stayed in the game until very late in the fourth quarter, just to get his 10 assists. He is close to breaking a record of most consecutive games with 10+ assists, but sometimes, Rondo has a very selfish 10 assists. This is selfish because he has been somewhat injury prone in the past and there is no reason to risk an injury if the game is already over. Deron had probably his best game of the season on Monday and has great chemistry with Brook Lopez.
Joe Johnson vs. Jason Terry. Advantage: Johnson
Both these players have been disappointing on new teams this year. Johnson was completely invisible in the second half of the game against Manhattan on Monday. He needs to get more involved in the offense and take better shots. Terry is only averaging 11 ppg even though he is starting this year for the first time in a long time. His rebounding and assist numbers are also down and his defense has been poor. The Celtics cannot be happy with his production so far.
Gerald Wallace vs. Paul Pierce. Advantage: Pierce
Wallace has another tough matchup one game after guarding Carmelo Anthony. This time he will be guarding Paul Pierce, another primiere offensive small forward. Pierce has somehow continued his production despite being very old. This season he is averaging over 20 ppg to go with 5.4 rpg. Wallace had his best offensive game of the season on Monday and has started to find his shot. This will be a matchup to watch tonight.
Kris Humphries vs. Brandon Bass. Advantage: Humphries
Avery Johnson has lost faith in Kris Humphries. On Monday, he did not play at all in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. Reggie Evans has been taking his place because Avery trusts Reggie to get rebounds more than The Hump and Reggie has also been playing better defense. Also, Humphries never seems to show up on the big stage. When the Nets play lesser teams, he shows up, but against good teams, he disappears. In the Nets’ last four games against Manhattan, Portland, the Clippers, and Golden State, Humphries has averaged 12 ppg against Portland and Golden State, but only 3 ppg against Manhattan and L.A. However, the Celtics are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA and Kris should be able to grab 10 rebounds tonight.
Brook Lopez vs. Kevin Garnett. Advantage: Lopez
Garnett is coming off his best game of the season, a 24 point, 10 rebound game vs. Orlando. He continues to be a force on defense and a contributor on offense too. But at this point in his career, Lopez should outplay him. Brook has had a great season offensively this year and has also improved his rebounding and defense. Against Manhattan, he had 11 rebounds and 5 blocks, which is such an improvement on what we have seen from him in previous years. He should be able to get another double-double tonight against Boston’s bad rebounding team.
Prediction: Celtics 106, Nets 88.
This may be a shock to some of you, but I do not think that the Nets will play well tonight. They are coming off a huge emotional win, which is something that the franchise has not had in 6 years. Brook Lopez has never had this kind of victory at the NBA level and Deron Williams has not won a game that big since he was in Utah. Boston, on the other hand, must hate all the publicity that the Nets and Knicks are getting. With this game, they will remind people that they are the defending Atlantic Division champions and they will not move out of the picture without a fight. I expect the Celtics to treat this like a playoff game and the Nets won’t be able to dig themselves out of a big first half deficit on the road.