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.