Blakely's Celtics-Jazz preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Jazz preview

BOSTON After a ho-hum start, the Boston Celtics are making the Garden look more and more like the Jungle of past years when teams came in knowing that a loss, regardless of how well they played, was the most likely outcome.

Even though Boston's home record (17-8 at the Garden, 27-22 overall) is nothing to get overly excited about, they have reeled off six straight wins at home - their longest home winning streak of the season.

Tonight they face a Utah (27-23) team that has been a completely different - and very beatable - club when away from home.

In fact, the difference between Utah's record at home (19-6) and on the road (8-17) is the largest in the NBA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a team finished with that wide a disparity was the Jazz during the 2007-2008 season in which they were 37-4 at home and 17-24 on the road.

Being at home will certainly be a factor weighing in the C's favor tonight. Here we'll take a look at a few other factors that may have an impact on tonight's outcome as the C's seek a victory which will put them back in a tie with Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Celtics will do what they can to make the Jazz a jump-shooting team, which is clearly one of the team's biggest weaknesses. Utah has connected on 30.9 percent of their 3s this season, which ranks No. 29 in the NBA. When you take into account that Boston has the NBA's top 3-point shooting defense - opponents are shooting just 30.6 percent on 3s against the Celtics - it could be a long night for the Jazz if they're forced to play primarily from the perimeter.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Al Jefferson: Kevin Garnett has seen his share of centers with an array of offensive skills, but "Big Al" is right up there with the best of them. He has 21 double-doubles this year, and is averaging 19.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. For Garnett, it will come down to doing what he seems to do most nights - whatever is needed to win. Sometimes that's score, other times it is to rebound or defend. Try door No. 3 tonight. Because the one thing we all know about Al Jefferson he will get his shots up.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce has been on a wicked tear of late, and you can bet the Celtics will look for him early and often tonight. Look for Boston to try and get Pierce the ball on the elbow more or posting up against a smaller defender in C.J. Miles. Depending on how Utah responds to that, Pierce can play the role of low-post scorer or facilitator to the team's perimeter players as well as guards such as Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo cutting to the basket.

STAT TO TRACK: One of the byproducts of Boston playing more "small ball" units, is that they become quite vulnerable to points in the paint. Unfortunately for Boston, that plays right into one of Utah's biggest strengths. The Jazz are scoring 50.2 points per game in the paint, which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. The C's are literally at the other end of the points in the paint spectrum, averaging 34.5 points in the paint per game which is No. 29 - or second-to-last - in the NBA.

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins' third line has been reborn under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, and the players are now openly admitting they desperately needed a change.

Claude Julien never trusted Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes enough defensively to play them together, but this line has blossomed under Cassidy: Six goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in seven games. They’ve survived in the defensive zone by rarely playing there. Instead, they push the pace, make plays to keep the puck out of the D-zone and, most importantly, keep producing the secondary offense that wasn’t there in the first 55 games of the season. 

No one has been freed from the shackles more than Spooner, who is back playing his natural center position after being forced to play left wing under Julien. The 25-year-old said Tuesday that getting a clean slate with a new coach has been extremely beneficial to him, and that perhaps he didn't always love playing for the guy now minding the bench in Montreal. 

“I felt like the last coach ... he just didn’t really trust me,” said Spooner, who has two goals and six points along with a plus-1 rating in seven games post-Julien. “It might've been kind of on me not really playing to the potential that I have, but at the same time . . . I just don’t think that he really liked me as a player. It’s kind of in the past now. It’s just a part of the game. It’s up to me to just go out there and just play, and not have that stuff in the back of my mind. 

“I just kind of have to go out there and believe in myself and I think at times I wasn’t really going out there and doing that. Maybe that’s something to learn. This sport has ups and downs, and I’ve had my downs. You learn that you can just sort of push through it. If you do that then things can be good.”

Spooner has 10 goals and 33 points along with a minus-3 this season, and could potentially surpass last year's numbers (13-36-49) in his second full season. 

Most felt that the speedy, skilled Spooner would be one of the big beneficiaries of the move from Julien to Cassidy, and now he’s showing that with a new lease on life in Boston. 

Tuesday, Feb. 28: Nothing coming easy for Habs

Tuesday, Feb. 28: Nothing coming easy for Habs

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while it’s all happening around the NHL world ahead of tomorrow’s NHL trade deadline.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Eric Engels says that a torturous February shows that nothing will come easy for the Montreal Canadiens.

*Some raw locker room video from the Florida Panthers with local D-man Keith Yandle holding court with reporters.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has some early thoughts, and some praise, for the Washington Capitals landing puck-moving D-man and big ticket rental player Kevin Shattenkirk.

*The Toronto Maple Leafs up their playoff cred by landing gritty, big third-line center Brian Boyle ahead of the trade deadline.

*Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the city of Chicago’s longest-tenured teammates having spent the last 12 years together with the Blackhawks.

*Patrice Bergeron and Toucher and Rich are getting together for their 10th annual Cuts for a Cause, which will be on March 27.

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/community/cuts-for-a-cause

*For something completely different: Jimmy Kimmel gives his perspective of the debacle that went down at the end of the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/watch-jimmy-kimmel-on-oscars-best-picture-award-mistake-w469552