Blakely's Celtics-Rockets preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Rockets preview

BOSTON Lately Boston has run through opponents that aren't exactly the upper crust of the NBA. But at this point, the Celtics (19-17) will pick up any crumbs of success they can get their hands on.

But as much as they have enjoyed their current four-game winning streak, the C's understand that this time of year . . . you gotta be greedy.

Up next for the Celtics will be Houston (21-17), a team that's currently trending in the opposite direction with three straight losses.

While the Rockets are indeed a step up from some of the C's most recent opponents, the Celtics' grind-it-out approach has to remain a constant regardless of the challenger.

"Every game for us, we know it's going to be a hard game," Boston's Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "We're going to come in; we're going to fight every game."

That approach has worked of late, and the C's will certainly look to keep it going tonight against the Rockets.

But there are other factors that are sure to come into play as the C's try to extend their winning streak to five in a row against a reeling Houston team coached by former Celtics great Kevin McHale.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Although the Celtics are scoring more with Brandon Bass in the starting lineup, the increase in scoring has a lot to do with their defense. Boston is forcing more turnovers, which has allowed them to get out in transition and get easy baskets. For the season, Boston is forcing 15.1 turnovers per game. During their current four-game winning streak, the C's have increased their forced turnover number to 17.3 per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Rajon Rondo vs. Kyle Lowry: While Lowry doesn't have the kind of media sizzle of New York's Jeremy Lin or New Jersey's Deron Williams, Rondo's defense of Lowry will have to be good. Lost in the Celtics' recent run of success has been the fact that all but one of the four point guards Rondo has faced (with the exception being Cleveland's Kyrie Irving) since returning from the All-Star break, has had a sub-par performance against the C's. But Lowry is a different kind of point guard from those guys. In some ways, he has the kind of all-around game that we see in Rondo. Look at his numbers. Lowry is having arguably his best NBA season, averaging 15.8 points, 7.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- The role of Ray Allen continues to fluctuate from one game to another. Some nights, he'll be looked upon to drive more to the basket. Other nights, the NBA's all-time 3-point king will be needed to shoot more. And then there was the win over the New York Knicks on Sunday, a game in which Allen was more of a decoy who set lots of picks. It'll be interesting to see how the Rockets approach defending Allen, and how Allen and the C's respond.

STAT TO TRACK -- If you see a 3-pointer go in tonight, cherish the moment because there probably won't be many. The Celtics defend the 3-point shot better than any team in the NBA, with opponents shooting just 30.2 percent on threes against them. The Houston Rockets are literally right behind Boston in 3-point defense, with their opponents connecting on 31 percent of their long-distance tries.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics struggling with three-pointers

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Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics struggling with three-pointers

You knew the 3-point shots were going to be flying all game long when the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets tipped off Monday night. 
 
Now whether they would go in, that’s another matter entirely. 
 
Boston’s struggles with knocking down the long ball played a pivotal role in them going into the half trailing the Houston Rockets, 58-48.
 
Houston, the NBA’s leader in three-pointers made (14.0) and taken (37.0), were 8-for-21 in the first half on 3s while the Celtics were a not-so-impressive 5-for-18.
 
Despite the shooting struggles, Boston managed to lead 37-36 after a driving lay-up by Jaylen Brown. 
 
But the Rockets had too much firepower and when they weren’t knocking down shots, they were getting to the free throw line where there 18-for-20 compared to Boston which was just 1-for-2.
Here are the first half Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game. 

 

STARS
 
James Harden

The MVP candidate was bringing it all areas, scoring 21 points to go with seven assists. But he was far from perfect, evident by his six turnovers. 
 
Isaiah Thomas

He led the Celtics with 11 points, but looks to be growing frustrated with the lack of calls going the Celtics’ way. Near the end of the second quarter, Thomas was grimacing while holding his right groin. But it didn’t appear to be too big a deal as he hit a 3-pointer just moments later. But it’s worth keeping an eye on in the second half. 
 

STUDS
 
Jaylen Brown

He gave Boston a surprisingly strong lift off the Celtics bench. At the half, he had seven points which included a lay-up that put Boston ahead 37-36.

Trevor Ariza

He doesn’t get a ton of attention, but Ariza’s play has been one of the keys to Houston’s success this season. At the half he had 10 points and six rebounds.

 

DUDS
 
Jonas Jerebko

He got the start tonight, but looks nothing like the high-energy, impact player he has been of late while coming off the bench. He was scoreless in the first half while missing all three of his shot attempts. 

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.