It is finally time for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to return to the city where they had so many great memories, Boston. The Brooklyn Nets (19-22) visit the Boston Celtics (15-30) Sunday evening in the teams’ first matchup in Boston this season. The Nets couldn’t be hotter heading into this game. They’ve won 9 of their past 10 games, including squeaking by Dallas on Friday. Boston is heading in the opposite direction. Despite leading the Atlantic Division early in the season, the Celtics have lost 16 of their past 19 games including a blowout loss at home on Friday to the Thunder without both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The key for the Nets tonight will be to not let their emotions get the best of them. There will be plenty of pregame festivities honoring Pierce and Garnett, but once the game starts, these guys need to remember that they play for the Brooklyn Nets. Luckily, they have enough teammates who won’t be distracted by the ceremony, but it is still important for those two guys to come out ready to go at the first whistle.
Injuries: The Nets injury-free luck has continued throughout this month and they are at full strength heading into this game. The Celtics could be without Jerryd Bayless and Avery Bradley, who have both been dealing with recent foot issues.
Shaun Livingston vs. Rajon Rondo. Advantage: Rondo
Rajon Rondo has yet to have a breakout game since returning and has only averaged 5 points and 5 assists in 4 games since returning from his major injury. But it’s only a matter of time until he starts figuring things out, assuming he’s healthy. Livingston has put up quieter numbers in recent games, but his impact is still felt at both ends of the floor. Hopefully his length will bother Rondo.
Alan Anderson/Deron Williams vs. Gerald Wallace. Advantage: Williams
If both Bayless and Bradley are out, Wallace could start at the shooting guard position for Boston as he did in the Celtics’ last game. However, calling him a “shooting” guard is very kind, considering he is shooting just 43% from the free throw line this year. Yes, the Nets gave him the bad contract, but for the next 3 years, he’s Boston’s problem now. Anderson will likely start again for the Nets, but Deron Williams will play starters’ minutes and should have no problem defending Gerald Wallace if needed.
Joe Johnson vs. Jeff Green. Advantage: Johnson
Green has taken over for Paul Pierce as Boston’s primary shot-taker this year and is averaging 16 ppg on 43% shooting, pretty average numbers, although he did score 39 last week in Washington. Joe Johnson had a quiet game on Friday but he has been on a tear this month. With all the focus being on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, don’t be surprised if Joe comes out with 10 or 15 in the first quarter.
Paul Pierce vs. Kris Humphries. Advantage: Pierce
The Nets better hope they have the advantage in this matchup. Humphries has been an on-and-off starter for the Celtics this season but has been starting recently. He’s averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds this year: not horrible. But Pierce definitely is going into this game looking to put on a show. There’s no question he’s going to take a large quantity of shots tonight so let’s hope most of those go in.
Kevin Garnett vs. Jared Sullinger. Advantage: Garnett
This is the matchup of the teacher vs. the student. The “teacher” is returning to his old team and, like Pierce, is probably hoping for a very good game. However, the “student” has actually had the better season this year, at least statistically, averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds per game. However, he is shooting just 43% from the field and 27% from 3 and he has taken a lot of 3′s.
Bold prediction: Rajon Rondo will have a double-double. I have a feeling this is his breakout game. But it doesn’t mean the Celtics will win necessarily.
Score prediction: Nets 109, Celtics 86. The Nets will win easily to push their record in January to 10-1. The Celtics are not nearly talented enough to compete with how well the Nets have played lately.