Celtics-Blazers preview: Keep your eye on . . .

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Celtics-Blazers preview: Keep your eye on . . .

BOSTON The last game before a long road trip is never easy.

Then again, has there really been anything easy about this season for the Boston Celtics?

With a grueling eight-game road trek ahead of them beginning after tonight's game against Portland, it would be easy - and a huge mistake - for the Celtics to look past the Blazers (19-20). While they do come into tonight's game with a sub-.500 record, Portland is indeed a better team than their record indicates.

In fact, tonight's game will be their first all season in which they come in with a below-.500 record.

Right now, location and opponent's record are irrelevant to the C's.

"We want to try to continue to win games," said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "The bottom line is we want to win, win, win."

And to do so tonight will require some things to go their way.

Here are a few to consider as the C's try to extend their season-best winning streak at home to five straight against a Portland team that's in the early stages of a long road trip that began with a loss at Minnesota on Wednesday, and won't end until March 18 at Oklahoma City.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Establishing tempo will once again be important for the Celtics. They face a Portland team that averages 98.1 points per game which ranks fifth in the NBA. For Boston, keeping Portland's scoring down will likely mean forcing them to turn the ball over more than usual. The Blazers average just 14 turnovers per game which ranks fourth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Marcus Camby: This will be one of the few games all season where you won't hear any mention of Garnett's age being an issue. Regardless of who has been at center, Garnett has been on a nice roll of late for the Celtics with seven double-doubles scoring and rebounding, in Boston's last nine games. Camby, who will be 38 years old later this month, doesn't score with the same level of efficiency as Garnett. But he does provide Portland with a similar defensive presence in the middle.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Nicolas Batum has the reputation of being a better-than-average defender, but he's slowly evolving into a reliable scorer as well. He's averaging a career-high 14.2 points this season, with 17 or more points scored in nine of Portland's last 11 games. With his size (6-8, 200) and length, Ray Allen will once again have his hands full getting free for good looks at the basket.

STAT TO TRACK - If tonight's game is close going into the fourth quarter, it becomes a virtual toss-up as to who will win. Boston has the NBA's best scoring defense in the fourth quarter, giving up a league-low 21.9 points per game. But Portland's scorers will challenge the C's in the fourth unlike few teams have thus far this season. The Blazers average 24.9 points scored in the fourth which ranks No. 2 in the NBA.

Evaluating a Gronk-less offense

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Evaluating a Gronk-less offense

Episode 13 - "The Ex-Pats Podcast"

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Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen look back at a solid Patriots win against a bad team in the Los Angeles Rams. The guys were trying to figure out exactly what L.A.'s gameplan was going in.

The linebacker rotation seems to be more consistent a few weeks after the Jamie Collins trade. How much of an impact will the loss of Rob Gronkowski have on offense? Malcolm Mitchell continues to impress, but 3rd down was a problem.

Finally, we look ahead to Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens, who have been playing well and are never intimidated coming into Gillette Stadium.

Al Horford recalls offseason flirtation with Rockets

Al Horford recalls offseason flirtation with Rockets

Al Horford was destined to play in tonight’s game between Boston and Houston.
 
But for which team?
 
That was the question the four-time All-Star pondered this summer when he narrowed his list of suitors outside of Atlanta to Boston, Houston and Washington, in that order.
 
“I really considered coming here,” Horford told reporters on Monday. “But them and Boston and Washington. (Houston) and Boston were probably the two teams I was really, really looking at. Just a lot to consider.”

When you look at how seamless Horford has fit in with the Celtics and how well the Rockets (13-7) have played this season, you get the feeling that Horford would have found success individually and for whichever team he chose.
 
“At the end of the day, I just felt I was better off being here in Boston,” Horford said.
 
Rockets All-Star James Harden was among the party Houston sent to try and woo Horford to the Rockets.

“I thought we had a chance,” Harden said. “I thought we had a real good chance, but obviously it didn’t work out. Which is fine.”
 
Indeed, the Rockets have been one of the surprise teams of the NBA this season in large part to Harden moving to the point guard position full-time.
 
Not only is he once again ranked among the NBA’s top scorers at 28.3 points which ranks fourth in the NBA, but he’s also dishing out a league-high 11.8 assists per game.
 
“They made it pretty clear in the offseason that he was going to be the point guard,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “He’s got the ball all the time. He had the ball a lot before, but certainly now with their spacing and his ability to make the play himself or the right read to the big rolling or to the many good shooters around, it’s a perfect setup for him and his skillset.”
 
The ability to draw defenders and create space for those around him is one of the many reasons why the Rockets felt Horford would have been an ideal fit for their system.
 
But the same argument can be made for the Celtics who unlike the Rockets, at least attempt to play defense at a high level.
 
Boston began the season ranked among the worst defenses in the NBA, but are currently up to 18th with a defensive rating of 105.0. Meanwhile, the Rockets’ defense ranks 27th in the league with a 107.2 defensive rating.