Many believed that the Boston Celtics would be tanking after trading away two of the franchise's best players in June. Well, Brad Stevens didn't get that memo and Boston sits atop the Atlantic Division with a 10-12 record.
Tonight, the Celtics and Nets face off for the first time this year-- which will pit Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett against their old teams. Pierce, who has missed the last two weeks with an injured hand, will make his return to the team off the bench. Garnett, who has appeared slow and over-the-hill, got destroyed by Andrea Bargnani last week and will look to take advantage of a small Celtics frontcourt. However, the pair of Hall of Famers have been wholly disappointing as they've both been inconsistent and old. In Brooklyn, they'll try to turn back the clocks against their old team.
Here are the three most important questions to consider coming into tonight's game:
1. Will Garnett actually show up against his former team?
Will Rausch: I'm not a lawyer, but I guess it comes down to your definition of "show up." Will an intense, bald, seven foot man with a Kevin Garnett jersey physically attend the game? Probably. Will he play well? Probably not. Intensity and focus have never been the issue with KG, his aging body and lack of jump shot have. If someone could will his way to playing well, Garnett would have already done so. And while you may think the two days of rest might help KG, his FG% and rebound numbers are worse with two days rest as compared to one or no days rest.
Ben Nadeau: I doubt it. All bets are off when you get torched by Andrea Bargnani. If you thought the Knicks were enough to invorigate the quickly deteriorating skeleton of Kevin Garnett, you'd have been wrong. And I was totally wrong. His match-ups are nice tonight against Boston, but how many times have we said that this year?
Max Weisberg: He better. The Nets need Garnett to start playing like an average NBA power forward. He owns the worst TS% in the entire NBA among rotation players and he's committing 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes (next highest total of his career was 3.1 per 36 minutes back in the late 90's). It's time to let him go; play him more minutes as Doc Rivers recently suggested. It's time to find out whether KG's career is completely over or whether he can give one last burst of production.
Justin DeFeo: Will he show up in the physical sense? Sure. In a figurative sense? Ehh. I think at this point anything Garnett can give above "absolutely killing us" should be considered a positive. He's old and slow and the one remaining weapon he had in his arsenal, the 17 foot jump shot, is now erratic. You'd think a battle against his former team could awake the warrior within, but unfortunately I think those days are long gone.
2. So the Nets lost to the Knicks by 30, then the Celtics beat the Knicks by 41 a few days later-- what's the key to this game? How does Brooklyn avoid losing by 40?
Will Rausch: The Celtics don't have an inside enforcer to get inside Kevin Garnett's head like the physical beast/mental stalwart that is Andrea Bargnani, so I think we'll be fine. Kelly Olynyk could have provided that, but he's been ruled out for this game. The rookie seven footer may have the second worst Simple Rating in the league at -12.6 and the Celtics may be 6-2 without him, but soft seven foot white guys are Garnett's kryptonite, apparently. So breath a sigh of relief, Nets fans, we dodged a bullet.
Ben Nadeau: Throw it to Brook Lopez. Give the ball the Brook Lopez. Politely hand the ball to Brook Lopez. Make sure Brook Lopez touches the ball on every possession. Granted, it was only Milwaukee but come on! Everyone and their mothers can see that the key to the Nets' success lies in Brook Lopez. Maybe it would help if he went Andrew Bynum on them.
Max Weisberg: 40? Logically, aren't the Nets supposed to lose by 71? Oh right, this is the 13'-14' NBA season where logic doesn't dictate the outcome of games. The key will be twofold: Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. The Celtics don't have a player over 6'8" who's capable of guarding the 7'1" Lopez. If Jason Kidd is truly set on playing through his big man, tonight would seem like the most ideal night of them all. As for Williams, what will he look like? Rusty? Injured? Apprehensive? This team's success has been, and always will be contingent on the dominance of Williams and Lopez.
Justin DeFeo: I guess the transitive property (or one of those math things) would say that the Celtics should beat the Nets by 70. But, sports is more science than math. If the Nets go out and compete, they may lose, but an NBA roster should at least be able to keep the game reasonable if they compete. I wouldn't pick the Nets to win until they start showing some signs of consistency, but another big game from Brook Lopez and with the return Deron Williams, I predict this game to have as much of a playoff feel as any game featuring two losing teams could have.
3. Will the Nets get their first winning streak of the year?
Will Rausch: Yes. It's a homer pick and perhaps wishful thinking, but they have to get it together at some point, right? Again, it depends on the definition of "get it together." I don't mean become a title contender here. Let's start with fielding a team that I am confident could beat the Nets D-League affiliate Springfield Armor on a nightly basis. Deron's return has me channeling Dr. Pangloss, so let's say that return to some form of respectability starts tonight.
Ben Nadeau: Yes. I don't really know why though. It might have something to do with the fact that I've listened to Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer 36 times in a row today. It might also have to do with the fact that the Nets can't be much worse than this. But why they're going to win? I don't know. Deron Williams is back, I guess. Uhm... maybe Kris and Gerald will help us out tonight?
Max Weisberg: No. I love the way the Celtics are coached and the way they're playing right now. They've got the hottest player coming into the game: recent player-of-the-week Jordan Crawford (what the hell??) and they just beat the Knicks by 41 -- a team the Nets lost to by 30. There's too many "moving parts" with Nets right now and I just don't see them edging the better coached, more athletic, more orderly Celtics.
Justin DeFeo: To quote the great Lou Brown from Major League: "If we win again tomorrow, that's two in a row. We win the next one, that's called a winning streak. It has happened before." If you call two in a row a streak, then sure the Nets have a shot of winning tonight. I tend to think that streaks consist of three or more, but I guess you have to win two to get to three. The Celtics are not world beaters by any stretch and I think if the Nets can find a healthy balance of pounding the ball inside with some timely shooting, things will look good.
Will Rausch: Nets 97, Celtics 94
Ben Nadeau: Nets 92, Celtics 88
Max Weisberg: Celtics 101, Nets 95
Justin DeFeo: Celtics 95, Nets 90