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

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

MILWAUKEE It goes without saying that the Boston Celtics are at their best in games in which points are hard to come by. This season, the C's are 11-1 when their opponent scores 85 points or less. Keeping the Milwaukee Bucks from putting up big scoring numbers hasn't been easy for any team this season. It's actually become even tougher with the addition of Monta Ellis who has been among the NBA's top scorers the past couple seasons.

Even before Ellis arrived via trade last week, the Bucks were among the NBA's top 10 scoring squads.

They currently rank 7th with a 98 points per game average.

That figure has been on the rise during their six-game winning streak that includes them averaging 113.3 points per game.

And their success is by no means a one or two man operation.

"It's a collective group," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I mean obviously, Brandon Jennings and Drew Gooden have been phenomenal. But (Ersan) Ilyasova, all of them, they're just playing well and making shots. But they have shot-makers. It's not like they have bad shooters and now, they're shots are going in. They have good shooters, and everybody's getting those guys shots."

Limiting the effectiveness of those shooters will be among the many challenges the C' face tonight. Here we'll take a look at other keys to the game as the Celtics look to put a little more distance between themselves and the streaking Milwaukee Bucks.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - A big part of Milwaukee's run of late has been their ball movement. The most telling barometer for that is assists. And the Bucks have been racking them up in bunches lately. Milwaukee has had at least 30 assists in each of their last four games, something that hasn't happened in the NBA since Phoenix did in during the 2007-2008 season. And a five-game assist binge of 30 or more hasn't happened since Orlando did it during the 1994-1995 season. That ball distribution success will be put to the ultimate test by Boston, which allows a league-low 18.5 assists per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Drew Gooden: Like Garnett, Gooden is also a power forward playing center. And like Garnett, Gooden has the ability to score facing the basket although he doesn't have Garnett's range on his shot. This is going to be one of the few games that Garnett will play at the center position where he doesn't have a clear-cut advantage over his matchup. And when you throw in the fact that Gooden is playing the best basketball of his career (he was Eastern Conference Player of the Week earlier this month), it makes for what should be a great duel.

PLAYER TO WATCH - It has to be Paul Pierce, who has been in foul trouble each of the last two games for the Celtics. He didn't fare so well when the two teams met on Feb. 29, scoring just 10 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He'll be defended by Carlos Delfino, which is one of the few matchups that clearly favors Boston. Don't be surprised if the C's try to get the Captain going early and often.
STAT TO TRACK - If Boston emerges with a win, the turning point will most likely be the third quarter. This season, Boston averages 24.3 points per game in the third, the 10th-best scoring mark for that quarter, in the NBA. The Bucks' third-quarter scoring defense ranks 19th in the league, with opponents averaging 24.1 points scored. But complicating matters some for Milwaukee in the third is that they average just 23.2 points scored in the third which ranks No. 23 in the NBA in third quarter scoring which, as you might expect, is their worst scoring quarter.

Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

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Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

BOSTON - Maybe it wasn't a warning shot, but more of an idle observation. Maybe it wasn't a challenge at all.

But what John Farrell had to say Sunday afternoon about Clay Buchholz was, if nothing else, noteworthy.

In assessing his team's play in the just-completed first month of the season, Farrell noted that the starting rotation, after a particularly rough beginning, had stabilized of late.

With one exception, that is.

"We've got to get Clay going, particularly," Farrell said. "He's an important part of our rotation, an important part of this team. We've got to get him on track." Buchholz is winless in his five starts, with an 0-3 mark and an inflated ERA of 6.51. He's given up a minimum of five earned runs in each start and has yet to pitch through the seventh inning.

Farrell noted that the issue has been less about quality of stuff and more about his aggressiveness - or lack thereof.

"There are times,'' Farrell said, "when we've seen Clay execute pitches with, I think, a greater conviction to the pitch. There are other times where maybe he's pitched away from contact a little bit too much and not attacked the strike zone. To me, there comes an attitude on the mound that's got to be prevailing."

The Sox aren't far from welcoming back to starters. Eduardo Rodriguez, who tweaked his knee in early March, is set to make his second rehab start for Pawtucket Tuesday and could conceivably return five days after that. At most, Rodriguez will be ready with one more additional outing.

Next up is Joe Kelly, who is on the DL with a shoulder impingement. Kelly has thrown some bullpen sessions and could begin a rehab assignment later in the week.

That will lead to the Sox making some tough decisions in the coming weeks. It had been widely assumed that knuckleballer Steven Wright would be he most vulnerable starter, but Wright is 2-2 with a 1.37 ERA in four outings.

Asked to assess where the Sox within the context of the division, Farrell said: "We're probably searching to shore up areas that are in need, and that first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster now. Not that we're going to make wholesale changes. Like I said, we've got to get Clay going. That's a big improvement that we could make."

 

AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

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AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

BOSTON -- With the first month of the season at coming to a close, Boston finds itself half a game behind Baltimore for first place and 2.5 games ahead of the third place Rays.

With the question marks surrounding the pitching staff behind David Price entering the season, among other issues, the Red Sox are in a much better position than initially expected.

John Farrell credits much of the early success to his potent offense.

“[We] finished better than we started I think the biggest thing is that guys in our lineup have developed that trust in one another,” he said. “There [are] some elements to our offense that’ve been very encouraging. The all-field approach and the way we’ve run the bases [have] been very consistent.”

It’s undeniable that the newfound consistency to the pitching staff has been a huge help -- although Farrell did note Clay Buchholz needs to get the ball rolling.

“The last two turns through the rotation has been more consistent. We’ve been able to give our guys in the bullpen a little bit more regular rest,” Farrell said. “I like the fact that we’ve added to the depth of power arms in our bullpen. We still have room for improvement we know that.

Entering the final game of the opening series against New York, the Red Sox and the Orioles are the only AL East teams with winning records against their inter-division rivals.

Even though they’ve performed better than anticipated, a case can be made that the Red Sox should sit in first place.

Tampa Bay shut them out in the opener, and won the final game of the series that was powered by a rare David Price implosion.

Toronto won the final two games of the second season series by the skin of its teeth, narrowly avoiding Red Sox comebacks in the ninth inning of each game.

Baltimore won the first game of its opening series in Boston thanks to a ninth inning home run.

New York has one game left before both teams leave town and, weather permitting, Boston has a chance to start May off properly -- by disposing of the only team in the AL East stuck with single digit wins.

With the ups and downs for the five AL East teams, Farrell doesn’t expect there will be disparity in the division.

“Every team has got their strengths,” he said. “We don’t expect this to be a huge separation among any of the five teams here. We’re all probably searching to sure up areas that we’re in need of. That first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster right now. Not that we’re going to make wholesale changes.”