BOSTON At the end of the Boston Celtics' morning shoot-around in Waltham, JuJuan Johnson was getting a few pointers from a former Celtic who had won multiple championships - and now was his boss, C's president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. The two talked, they went through simulated plays in which Johnson would shoot out of the post, or spin to the basket. Ainge sensed what many have of late, and that's Johnson's confidence not being where it should be this time of year when the opportunity to play is at its zenith this season.
"I just enjoy learning form these guys," Johnson said.
The 6-foot-10 rookie had a rough time in Boston's 97-92 loss at Atlanta, a game in which he shot 2-for-7 from the field with a number of those misses being wide open or lightly contested shots - the kind of shots both he and the Celtics want for him to get.
"You always feel good when you get an opportunity to practice," Johnson said. "Kind of just shoot out some bad shots, that type of thing. Once you see a couple go (in), your confidence goes right back up. I'm doing good."
With the Celtics likely to limit the minutes of their core players, having players like Johnson ready to play and play well will indeed be a factor in tonight's game against Milwaukee. Here are a few other keys to tonight's game, one in which the Celtics can acquire home court advantage in their first round series with Atlanta if they can come up with a win coupled with a loss by the Hawks.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR At this point, the goal is to get the core guys a chance to break a sweat, do a little damage on the scoreboard, and start looking ahead to Sunday's Game 1 matchup against Atlanta. Rajon Rondo (back) is expected back in the lineup tonight. Don't look for him to play his usual near-40 minutes tonight. Garnett will likely see some, but not a lot, of playing time tonight. Ditto for Paul Pierce, who has maintained for days that he doesn't want to miss any games leading into the playoffs. "Rest is important, obviously, but you want to have a good rhythm going into the playoffs, too," Pierce toldCSNNE.com. "Right now, my body feels pretty good and I'm in a pretty good rhythm, so I don't want to do anything to disrupt that."
MATCHUP TO WATCHDoc Rivers vs. Scott Skiles: They're not going to log a minute on the floor tonight - although that would probably make for more interesting matchup than the actual game - but the way they handle things tonight will be worth keeping tabs on. Rivers wants to give his main guys rest, but with home court within reach, he has to balance that need with giving his team the best shot at winning. As for Skiles, it's hard to get his guys motivated tonight with no chance at the playoffs and no way of helping or hurting your position for the NBA draft. This is one of those games where a fast start by Boston might be enough to put this game out of reach quickly.
PLAYER TO WATCHMickael Pietrus will return to the lineup after missing four games with swelling in his right knee. He is one of the biggest X-factors for Boston in the playoffs. His ability to stretch defenses while making life difficult as possible for opponents with his defense, will be huge for the Celtics in the postseason. Like most of the Celtics core guys, don't look for him to log too many minutes with the playoffs right around the corner.
STAT TO TRACKMilwaukee has been one of the best all season at forcing turnovers, with opponents committing 15.9 per game which ranks fourth in the NBA. Those turnovers have led to 18.9 points per game which ranks fifth in the NBA. The C's have been middle-of-the-pack in terms of points off turnovers with 16.3, No 15 in the NBA this season. As far as turnovers, Boston ranks sixth with 15.6 forced per game.