Celtics-Clippers preview: Rolling with adversity

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Celtics-Clippers preview: Rolling with adversity

BOSTON Adversity seems to be the "in" thing these days around the NBA because it looks like nobody can quite have enough of it.

The Celtics are no exception.

Just days after learning that Rajon Rondo (torn right ACL) was out for the season, he was soon joined by teammate Jared Sullinger whose lumbar disc surgery puts him on the bench for the rest of the 2012-2013 season as well.

And as tough as times might seem for the C's now, they face a Clippers team that's going to play with a similar sense of purpose because they too have been playing without their All-Star point guard, Chris Paul.

He suffered a bruised knee injury on Jan. 12 and has appeared in two games since. Team officials are listing him as a game-time decision for this afternoon's tilt in Boston.

The same holds true for Jamal Crawford who suffered a broken nose in the fourth quarter of the Clippers' loss at Toronto on Friday.

But with injuries comes opportunity for someone to step up and fill the void.

We have seen the best of Courtney Lee who has been a double digit scorer when Rondo doesn't play.

"Hes doing great," Rivers said of Lee. "Im asking a lot of him. He started the (Orlando) game bringing the ball up at point, then hes guarding J.J. Redick, and then at one point he was at the three."

Said Lee: "The production is coming from everybody, as opposed to you know, Rondo. He's our playmaker, he's racked up a lot of assists with his playmaking ability. Now we have to move the ball and make sure we are in the right spots to execute the offense.

For the Clippers, Eric Bledsoe continues to make a strong case for being the best backup point guard in the NBA this season. Naturally minutes behind a healthy Chris Paul will be limited, but that hasn't stopped Bledsoe from averaging nine points while racking up a whopping 78 steals this season which is tops among all players with fewer than 21 minutes played per game this season.

Playing without key guys will indeed be one of the many challenges facing both teams today.

Here are some other keys to today's game as the C's look to avenge a 106-77 blowout loss in Los Angeles on Dec. 27.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Scoring is going to be a challenge for both teams when you consider they are each among the top-10 scoring defenses in the NBA. The C's will look to get out in transition and score a few easy buckets, but the Clippers' size, depth and athleticism will make those times few and far between.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs DeAndre Jordan. Garnett's length often gives him an edge. But that won't be the case against Jordan. KG's effectiveness will come down to his footwork to create enough space to shoot, and his court vision in finding teammates or as he has done often, making the "hockey assist" in which his pass leads to the pass that becomes an assist.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With 118 dunks to his credit this season, it's hard to take your eyes off of Blake Griffin when he's on the floor or even in the air. You can count on him to have a couple jams at some point today.

STAT TO TRACK: Paul Pierce comes into today's game with three straight games of at least 10 rebounds. A double-digit rebounding game today would be just the second time in Pierce's career that he has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in four straight games. The first time was Nov. 16-23, 2002.

The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

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The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

Boston Globe columnist, and former Celtics beat writer, Dan Shaughnessy sits down with CSN for an extended discussion on "The '86 Celtics Interviews" podcast. Shaughnessy talks about the greatness of that team and the players' surprising reaction when they found out he was moving from the Celtics to the Red Sox beat.

Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

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Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – The NBA is a league full of highs and lows for players.

There are few who understand this as well as Tyler Zeller, a player who has gone from starting to being a backup to not playing at all – at times in the same week.

And through it all, you never heard him gripe about it publicly or privately to teammates.

It’s among the many reasons you constantly hear his teammates talk about how much they respect the way he has handled some extremely difficult situations.

This past season was especially tough for him considering he was heading into free agency and looking to do all he could to not just win, but showcase what he could do as player.

There were many nights when Zeller didn’t have that opportunity, but he understood.

The Celtics have been and will continue to be a team that’s about finding ways to win and on many nights coach Brad Stevens decided to go in a direction that didn’t include Zeller playing.

As the summer dragged on and the Celtics’ joined the handful of teams that came up short in landing Kevin Durant, Zeller’s return became more likely.

And Zeller’s patience was rewarded with a two-year, $16 million contract with the second year of the deal being a team option.

Now that he’s back in the fold, what’s next?

The ceiling for Zeller: Part-time starter

It may not happen on opening night and it may not happen in the first week, or even first month, of the season.

But at some point, Tyler Zeller will be in the Celtics’ starting lineup.

And when he’s there, he’ll do a lot of good things that he has proven he’s capable of doing.

When it comes to running the floor in transition, Zeller has distinguished himself as one of the Celtics best big men.

The Celtics are big on playing with space and pace and there are few 7-footers who can run the floor as well as Zeller.

In fact, his PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) last season was 101.93 which was tops among all Celtics frontcourt players and second overall to guard Marcus Smart (102.46).

It’ll get the Celtics a few easy buckets here and there, but it won’t score enough points with the coaching staff to keep a starting job, which would then relegate him back to being one of the team’s frontcourt reserves.

Still, Zeller is a luxury that few teams have: a player who won’t get (overly) bent out of shape even if his minutes resemble this.

The floor for Zeller: On the roster

Zeller has spent the bulk of his NBA career as a back-to-the-basket center, but showed more desire to score more from the perimeter last season, which is one of the reasons why he shot a career-low 47.6 percent from the field.

He’s trying to expand his game because of the direction that the NBA is going with big men who need to be able to score further away from the basket in addition to providing a presence around the rim.

While Zeller has decent mechanics on his perimeter shot, it’s clear that he’s not yet totally comfortable being a “stretch big.”

According to NBA.com/stats, Zeller shot 30.9 percent from the field last season on wide open shot attempts from at least 10 feet away.

With the addition of Al Horford and the return of Amir Johnson as well as Kelly Olynyk, Boston has a nice group of stretch centers they can put on the floor. And let’s not forget about Jonas Jerebko, who closed out the playoffs as a starter for Boston.

Minutes will once again be hard to come by for Zeller with any kind of consistency.

In fact, there’s a very good chance that he will have some games in which he doesn’t play (coaches decision) at all.

And depending on injuries, he may have to be inactive at times just to ensure Boston has depth on the perimeter.

Whether he’s starting, coming off the bench or not suited up at all, Zeller is an important part of this Celtics squad. Above all else, he provides depth, which continues to be one of the hallmarks for this franchise under Stevens.