The Brooklyn Nets (45-32) will try to win the season series from the Boston Celtics (40-37) for the first time since 2006 tonight when they visit the Boston Garden on ESPN. The Nets are coming off a dominating victory over the Sixers last night, although they have been very inconsistent recently and have been horrible against teams above .500 and while playing on national television. The Celtics are starting to get healthy just in time for the playoffs. Kevin Garnett recently returned to the lineup and Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley, and Jeff Green are all healthy. Boston is only 6-10 in its last 16 games, but Garnett had been out for most of that time.
The Nets are 2-1 against the Celtics this year, but the teams haven’t played since Christmas day, when the Celtics embarrassed the Nets in Brooklyn and won in a rout. That game was the final nail in the coffin for Avery Johnson, and he was fired 2 days later. Both teams have changed so much since then, so it is hard to consider those games meaningful now.
Both teams are comfortable with their playoff positioning right now, so this is not a very important game for either team. The Nets would need something drastic to happen to either fall to the 5-seed or rise to the 3-seed. The Celtics are only a game behind Atlanta in the loss column, but I believe that they would prefer to play the Knicks than the Pacers in the first round, so I would be surprised to see them move up in the standings.
Injuries: Keith Bogans is doubtful for the Nets while Joe Johnson is probable, but his minutes will likely be limited. The Celtics are as healthy as they will be for the rest of the season. Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger are both out for the year.
Deron Williams vs. Avery Bradley. Advantage: Williams
Bradley has only played in 46 games this season and has yet to play against the Nets. With Rondo out for the season, he has been starting at point guard for Boston and is averaging 9 ppg. However, his strength is in his defense, where he is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. He will probably be guarding Deron Williams, who might struggle to get good looks tonight. Bradley does a good job of forcing turnovers. Deron has been on a roll lately and the Nets need him to play well again tonight.
Joe Johnson vs. Paul Pierce. Advantage: Pierce
At 35 years old, Pierce has barely slowed down from his best years and is still averaging 19 ppg, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. He has carried the Celtics with Rondo and Garnett out recently. Joe played ok last night, but hasn’t been himself since getting injured on the road trip.
Gerald Wallace vs. Jeff Green. Advantage: Green
With all the Boston injuries, Green has turned from a sixth man to a starter and is averaging 12 ppg this season. He has successfully returned from heart surgery last season and is playing pretty well. Gerald Wallace appears to be at an all-time low in terms of confidence. He did not score a single point last night against Philadelphia.
Reggie Evans vs. Brandon Bass. Advantage: Evans
Bass has been one of the few Celtics who hasn’t had injury problems this year, but is only averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds per game. Reggie Evans has been on an absolute roll over the last month or two and had a 17 point-24 rebound game last night. The Celtics are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league and Reggie should again have a great game tonight.
Brook Lopez vs. Kevin Garnett. Advantage: Lopez
Kevin Garnett is back healthy and appears to be ready for the playoffs. He played his first game since returning from an injury on Sunday and should be good to go tonight. Lopez played great last night against Philadelphia and has had some good games against Boston in the past.
Prediction: Celtics 101, Nets 94.
The Nets played well last night, but have been pretty terrible against both teams above .500 and while playing on national television. The Nets will need a whole lot to happen to not get the 4-seed, so this game is not very important to them. It is not very important to Boston either, who would be happy to play the Knicks in the first round.