BOSTON Aside from the Boston Celtics' woeful start to the year, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the bigger surprises in the Eastern Conference this season. Expected to be among the NBA's worst teams again, the Cavaliers (7-11) have been surprisingly competitive this season.
And like the Celtics, this Cleveland team consists of several players in their first season as teammates. The Cavs have just three players (Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson) who were on the roster at the start of last season. And the bulk of the new guys are rookies or second-year players. Only the Washington Wizards (8) have more first and second-year players than Cleveland, which has seven.
Fortunately for the C's, their collection of new faces is finally starting to play with the kind of consistency that Boston was anticipating at some point this season.
And that turnaround, not surprisingly, has come with the team's play defensively.
"That's the kind of team we are, a defensive team," C's Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "We know for us to be a really good team, we have to get it done on defense. We're starting to do that now."
Here are a few other things to keep tabs on as the Celtics try to extend their winning streak to five in a row and get over the .500 mark for only the second time this season:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR Lately, the Celtics have been saving their best for the second half of games. During their four-game winning streak, opponents are only scoring 35.5 points against them in the second half. For the Cavs, scoring in the second half has not been a problem. In their last four games three of which they lost the Cavs have averaged 51.3 points scored in the second half, which is actually higher than their 48.9 points per game average in the second half this season, which ranks among the league's best scoring teams. Still, with a scoring defense ranked 24th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA, all those second-half points have been just enough for them to remain competitive.
MATCHUP TO WATCH Kevin Garnett vs. Anderson Varejao: This is a good matchup between a couple of power forwards now being asked to play some center. Garnett has been a solid scoring option for the Celtics, but he has really been impressive in defending Dwight Howard and Indiana's Roy Hibbert. Varejao has been a key to the Cavs being better than expected. He has nine double-doubles this season, and he's averaging 9.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
PLAYER TO WATCH The play of Antawn Jamison, maybe more than any other player on the floor tonight, will dictate the game's outcome. In Cleveland's seven wins, he's averaging 19.5 points while shooting 50.4 percent from the field. In their 11 losses, he's down to 12.5 points while connecting on just 34 percent of his shots.
STAT TO TRACK One of the keys to Boston's run of late has been their ability to make teams look for more one-on-one action, as opposed to getting the entire team involved. The C's are allowing teams an NBA-low 15.9 assists per game this season. Being able to continue disrupting the flow of opposing team's offenses, which is a big factor in the Celtics allowing so few assists, will once again play a role in their ability to win.