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.

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”