Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview


Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

BOSTON The Boston Celtics once again find themselves in a less-than desirable scenario right before a big game.

The C's are coming off a physically and emotionally draining 115-107 win at Miami, the kind of game after which you would love to get a little time off.

No such luck for the Green Team, who will host a well-rested Atlanta Hawks team tonight which is also hoping to improve its playoff positioning.

Atlanta hasn't played since a 116-96 win over Charlotte on Saturday.

"It is what it is," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We just have to be ready and hopefully we get energy from the crowd. Because we used a lot on the floor (in beating Miami)."

The Celtics have given the home crowd plenty to cheer about lately, having reeled off wins in nine of their last 10 games with the lone defeat being a one-point nail-biter to the San Antonio Spurs.

In addition to being well-rested, the Hawks have also proven to be a difficult team to beat when they are in your building.

Only four teams in the East have a better road record than the Hawks, who are 15-15 away from Philips Arena.

Boston's ability to feed off the home crowd will indeed be a factor in tonight's game. We'll examine a few other keys as the Celtics continue to pull away in the Atlantic Division.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Regardless of whether the Celtics played last night, the Hawks are going to come out looking to run. It makes sense when you consider they are the younger team, and getting out in transition has been one of their best traits all season. Atlanta averages 15.8 fast-break points this season (No. 8 in the NBA), a figure that will be challenged by a Celtics defense that's giving up just 12 fast-break points per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Avery Bradley vs. Joe Johnson: Once again Bradley will find himself matched up with a taller player at the shooting guard position. But what makes Johnson such a tough cover is his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, or pull up for jumpers. Give Bradley credit. He has managed to make some of the NBA's best (Dwyane Wade, for example) have off nights. He'll look to continue that trend against Johnson, one of the most efficient shooting guards in the NBA.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Atlanta's Josh Smith is a phenomenal talent . . . except when he plays against Boston. In his lone game against the Celtics this season, he had 10 points on 5-for-20 shooting. He has faced the C's 24 times in his career, averaging 12.3 points per game. Of the teams he has played against 24 or more times, Smith's scoring, rebounding (6.7) and field goal percentage (.403), are worst against Boston than any other team.

STAT TO TRACK -- Although both Boston and Atlanta have not been among the NBA's top scoring teams this season, both have ratcheted up their bucket-making skills of late. In the last three games by the C's, they are averaging 101.3 points per game which ranks 10th in the NBA during that span. For the season, Boston ranks No. 26. As for the Hawks, they have the 18th-best scoring team this season, but have averaged 112.3 points in the last three games which only trails Phoenix (112.7) during that same span.

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