Celtics-Bobcats preview: Cats provide hope for C's

Celtics-Bobcats preview: Cats provide hope for C's
April 11, 2014, 1:30 pm
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BOSTON —  The Boston Celtics (23-55) have assured themselves of being one of the worst teams in the NBA this season.

And if there's a beacon of hope they can turn to, the Charlotte Bobcats are it.

Few teams have been able to turn around their fortunes the way Charlotte (40-38) has from last season until now.

In fact, the Bobcats have more wins this season than they had in the two previous seasons (28) combined.

Today, they're riding a five-game winning streak, have already qualified for the playoffs, and are currently tied for sixth in the East with Washington.

And if the two finish with an identical record, the Bobcats hold the tie-breaker and thus would get the higher seeding.

Former UConn star and current Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker has been a key player in Charlotte's unexpected run towards the postseason.

"To go from basically the worst team going to the six seed, I mean, it shows a lot," Walker told reporters recently.

One of the perks of finishing sixth for the Bobcats would be to not see Eastern Conference powers Miami or Indiana in the first round of the playoffs.

Charlotte center Al Jefferson isn't overly concerned about the Bobcats' eventual playoff seeding.

"Does it really matter where we're at, seeding-wise?" the former Celtic told reporters. "No. We're just happy to be in the mix."

And if the Celtics have the kind of offseason they are anticipating, they'll be able to say the same next season.

Here are some keys to tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Charlotte has been one of the better defensive teams all season, giving up just 97.1 points per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA. That will be problematic for the Celtics, who come into tonight's game averaging just 95.7 points, which ranks 26th in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger vs Al Jefferson

Sullinger will have a tough go of things against Jefferson, arguably the best center in the Eastern Conference this season. Sullinger's 3-point shooting is still a work in progress, but he'll have to take and make a few in order to hold his own against Jefferson's low-post prowess.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:  Rajon Rondo

He has 12 double-doubles in just 29 games, but Rondo hasn't been able to elevate his play or that of his teammates in the closing minutes of games. The way Charlotte plays, look for this to be another down-to-the-wire finish . . . which has not worked out too well for the Celtics this season.

STAT TO TRACK: While Charlotte's defense as a whole has been solid this season, the Bobcats have been susceptible to giving up the 3-ball. Opponents are shooting 37.2 percent against them from 3-point range this season, which is the fourth-highest percentage in the NBA. That should help the Celtics, who come into tonight's game shooting just 33 percent, which ranks 28th in the league this season.