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

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

DEERFIELD, Ill. The Chicago Bulls (24-7) have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Throw in their 95-91 loss at Boston on Sunday, and you can count on the Celtics (15-13) getting a stronger effort from the Bulls, regardless of whether Bulls star Derrick Rose (back) is in the lineup tonight.

"He's still day-to-day; he's feeling better," said Bulls coach and former Celtics assistant, Tom Thibodeau. "He just did some shooting today. He's still a game-time decision."

Rose said he'll have treatments for his back now in addition to when he arrives at the United Center later tonight.

The Celtics have their own health-related concerns heading into tonight's game.

In addition to being without Brandon Bass (left knee), the Celtics may have to play without Kevin Garnett as well.

A hip flexor injury sidelined Garnett in Wednesday's 98-88 home loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Garnett, like Rose, will also be a game-time decision.

The health of the reigning league MVP (Rose) and a former league MVP (Garnett) are certainly important factors in tonight's game.

But they aren't the only ones.

We'll take a look at a few others right now.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - You can bet Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been on his team lately for how freely they have allowed other teams to score. Despite having the third-best scoring defense (88 points per game) in the NBA this season, the Bulls have given up 105 points per game in their last two games which includes a 95-91 loss to Boston. "Defensively, we have to play a lot better," Thibodeau said. "Our defense has been OK most of the year. But the last two games, it's not where we want it to be."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Ray Allen vs. Ronnie Brewer: Allen is currently trying to snap out of a mini-shooting slump in which he has averaged 7.7 points on 31.8 percent shooting from the field in the C's last three games. In addition, Allen has missed six of his seven 3-point attempts in that span. Brewer is what you'd call an intangibles guy who does a lot of little things to help the Bulls win, but may not necessarily show up in the final statistics. Against the Celtics, that would be trying to continue making Ray Allen an ineffective scorer.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Paul Pierce will look to bounce back from an inexplicable performance in Wednesday's loss to Detroit. He had 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, but never at any point in the game looked like he was ready to take over. Rajon Rondo's career night scoring the ball did have a downside - it kept Pierce from ever getting into any kind of flow because Rondo had it going with points in the paint as well as from the perimeter hitting jumpers. Look for the Celtics to try and establish Pierce as a scorer early tonight.

STAT TO TRACK - Celtics coach Doc Rivers was not pleased with his team's lack of ball movement in the loss to Detroit. Indeed, it was an unusual night for the the C's in terms of spreading the wealth. Boston scores via an assist on 64.6 percent of their made baskets, which is tops in the NBA. In the 98-88 loss to the Pistons, the Celtics had 16 assists on 34 made baskets, or 47 percent. For Boston to have a shot at winning, they'll likely need to be trending close to what they normally do in terms of assists to field goals made this season.

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady can be his own worst critic. That's why last week, after beating the Texans in the Divisional Round to move on to the AFC title game, he wasn't thrilled. He didn't play up to his standards. The offense struggled at points. He wore his frustration like a five o'clock shadow.

Winning is not everything for Brady, most weeks. He has an idea of how he should perform, how the Patriots offense should perform, and when those ideals aren't met, he's generally displeased. 

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

On Sunday, after beating up on the Steelers, 36-17, that wasn't the case. It was a sound performance, but it wasn't perfect. It was explosive at times, but it shined a light on areas where the Patriots will need to continue to improve. 

Despite its imperfections, Sunday was no time to brood about plays missed or lessons learned the hard way. Screw it, Brady seemed to say. They were going to the Super Bowl. It was OK to smile.  

"It was a good day," Brady said. "I mean, we're going to the Super Bowl, man. [Expletive], you've got to be happy now."

The Super Bowl berth is the ninth in franchise history -- more than any other club -- and the seventh with Brady and coach Bill Belichick. By throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing, Brady tied Joe Montana for the most postseason games (nine) with three touchdown passes. 

Brady will also claim the record for Super Bowls played when he and the Patriots head to Houston. And if they win, he'll tie Charles Haley for most Super Bowl wins for a player (five).

Those are lofty numbers made even more significant, perhaps, due to the fact that Brady wasn't allowed to start this season as his team's quarterback. He was asked during Sunday's postgame press conference if it was personally satisfying to get back to the Super Bowl despite having to serve a four-game suspension due to Deflategate.

"Well, that's because of the hard work of a lot of people from my coaches to my teammates to our families that support us," he said. "It takes a lot of people, a lot of hard work and a lot of effort over the course of many months. This didn't start at 6:40 tonight.

"This thing started in April. It really started before that in free-agency when we were picking up guys like [Chris] Hogan and drafting guys like Malcolm Mitchell and guy who were in rehab like [LeGarrette Blount] and [Dion Lewis] and [James Develin] and Nate [Solder]. It's a lot of hard work. There are only two teams left standing, and I'm happy we're one of them."

They're going to the Super Bowl. He has to be happy now.