Celtics-Nets preview: Christmas in Brooklyn

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Celtics-Nets preview: Christmas in Brooklyn

NEW YORK The addition of Jarvis Varnado was designed to bolster the Celtics' frontcourt, which took another hit with Chris Wilcox's thumb injury that'll keep him out for almost a month.

The C's will need all the help they can muster on the boards on Christmas Day when they face the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.

A few more rebounds - OK, a lot more rebounds - would be the perfect gift for the Celtics on Christmas Day especially when you consider that it is easily their biggest weakness.

Each of the two previous matchups between these two, both Brooklyn wins, included the Nets outscoring the C's 23-11 in the second-chance points.

Brooklyn won the rebounding battle in both games as well, by an average of six rebounds per game which is slightly above the rebounding deficit the C's face most games.

By no means is the addition of Varnado viewed as a savior of sorts for the Celtics rebounding woes - it's not a given that he will even play - but having another body can only help in the one area that the C's desperately need to make strides towards improving to have any shot at having the kind of deep playoff run they envision.

Here are some other keys to the game as the Celtics (13-13) look to draw even with the Nets (14-12) for the second-best record in the Atlantic Division behind New York.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Both Boston and Brooklyn have had their issues at times this season in limiting opponents to shooting a low percentage. Teams are shooting 45 percent against the C's this season, which ranks 18th in field goal percentage defense. Nets' foes have connected on 45.9 percent of their shots which comes in at No. 24.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jason Collins vs. Brook Lopez: This is the kind of matchup that should validate why Collins is in the starting lineup. He's not going to outscore Lopez unless Lopez gets tossed in the game's first minute. But if Collins is doing his job, he'll be making it a lot tougher for Lopez, who has averaged 16.5 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots while shooting 62.5 percent from the field against the C's this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry will surely have something to prove. He is coming off a 1-for-15 shooting performance, the kind of game that he has bounced back from quickly. He has had four such games this season in which he made one field goal or less. In the four games that followed, Terry has shot 50 percent from the field (17-for-34) while averaging 11.5 points per game.

STAT TO TRACK: The three-point shot has not been a weapon of choice by the Celtics, who come in averaging 5.4 threes per game, which ranks 28th in the league. They have been even worse in their two games against the Nets this season, shooting 8-for-20 on threes. Boston's ability to hit the long ball will go far in their quest to defeat Brooklyn.

Don't expect to see Celtics shy away from 3-pointers

Don't expect to see Celtics shy away from 3-pointers

BOSTON – There were a bunch of numbers from Boston’s 121-114 loss to Detroit on Wednesday that stood out. 

Among the eye-grabbing stats was the fact that the Celtics had taken 42 3s (with 15 makes), an unusually high number of attempts that we may see matched or even surpassed tonight against the Sacramento Kings. 

Don’t count head coach Brad Stevens among those surprised to see the Celtics attempt a lot of three-pointers. 

Last season the Celtics took 26.1 three-pointers per game which ranked 11th in the NBA. 

This season they’re up to 31.2 three-pointers attempted and 11.3 made which both rank fifth in the NBA. 

You can count Kelly Olynyk among the Celtics pleased with the team's increased emphasis on shooting 3s. 

The 7-foot led the NBA in shooting percentage (.405) on 3s taken last season.

"We play a lot of spread offense with four shooters, four perimeter guys," Olynyk, who is shooting 38.1 percent on 3s this season, told CSNNE.com. "We're trying to make teams shrink their defense and spray out and hopefully make shots. You're making extra passes, giving up good ones for great ones. And we have some pretty good shooters on our team. That's the way we're trying to play. It's just a matter of us making shots."

And the Celtics face a Kings team ranks among the NBA’s worst at limiting 3-point attempts with Sacramento opponents averaging 28.4 three-pointers taken per game which ranks 25th in the league. 

One of Stevens’ main points about three-pointers is while it’s an important shot for them, they need to be the right shot, the right basketball play at the right time. 

And when asked about the 42 attempts against the Pistons, he was quick to acknowledge those were for the most part the right shots to be taken. 

“They are,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day we want lay-ups. And if we don’t get layups, we want the floor to be shrunk. If the defense shrinks in, you’re able to touch the paint and kick out. Two of our last three games, maybe three of the last four, two-thirds of our possessions we touched the paint or shrunk the defense with a roll. That’s our objective. We’re not a team that gets to the foul line a lot. We’re not a team that rebounds at a high rate. And we haven’t scored in transition. To be able to be sitting where we are offensively, a big reason is because we space the floor.”

Barnes, Cousins trying to keep 'emotions and energy focused'

Barnes, Cousins trying to keep 'emotions and energy focused'

BOSTON – No one is proclaiming DeMarcus Cousins’ demeanor is all that radically different than past seasons. 

But the volatile nature that has often overshadowed his on-the-court-brilliance, doesn’t seem to shine as brightly as it used to. 

Maybe he’s growing up. 

Maybe he’s finally comfortable with his team. 

And then there’s the almighty dollar which was the incentive for one of his teammates, Matt Barnes, to clean up his act as far as racking up technical fouls and being fined by the league. 

I asked Barnes whether there was a light bulb moment or a teammate or player that helped him get on track and not draw so much attention from officials and the league office. 

“It was all the money I was being fined,” he said. “I think I lost like $600,000 over my career for fines. It was time to kind of wake and say ‘hey, they don’t like you so you have to stick to the book.’”

With Barnes returning to Sacramento (he played for the Kings during the 2004-2005 season), he finds an intense, kindred spirit of sorts in Cousins who like Barnes has had his share of technical and fines handed down by the league office. 

This season, Cousins is the NBA’s leader in technical fouls with six. 

“I’ve always had a good head on my shoulders,” Barnes said. “I’m just a passionate player. I play with my emotion on my sleeve. I think DeMarcus does the same thing. What I’m trying to show him now, we have to keep our emotions and energy focused towards the right things. That could be detrimental to the team if it gets out of hand.”

First-year coach Dave Joerger has been pleased to see how different Cousins is to be around on a daily basis as opposed to how he’s perceived. 

“He gets credit for his talent. He gets credit that he’s improved in the league,” Joerger said. “I think he doesn’t get enough credit for the way that his approach to the game and the way that he’s carrying himself and conducting himself has greatly improved. He’s a good person. Now being with him, I see improvement over the last three years, the way that he goes about his business. I think that’s very positive.”