Celtics-Rockets preview: Get in the paint

Celtics-Rockets preview: Get in the paint
November 19, 2013, 10:15 am
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Bringing an end to their current three-game losing skid would be a nice change of pace for the Celtics. But even more important for the Celtics would be to start playing with more consistency.

"You play 82 games and if you're inconsistent then it manifests itself in many ways," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "Number one, you're not going to be as successful. Number two, nobody knows what to expect. That's where the reliable guys over the course of a long season are invaluable."

Figuring out who those players are remains a work in progress for Stevens and the Celtics. They are getting a better idea of what works for them to be successful. However, doing that with consistency is another matter entirely.

The Celtics have shown a slight improvement in their long-range shooting recently, but buckets in the paint -- not on the perimeter -- remain their best pathway to success.

In Boston's four wins this season, the Celtics have averaged 45 shot attempts in the paint which have generated 51 points. Not surprisingly, that's a significant improvement in comparison to their losses this season.

During the team's four-game losing skid to start the season, Boston took 35.5 shots in the paint which yielded 41.5 points. And during their current three-game losing skid, Boston has taken 41.3 shots in the paint which has produced 38 points per game.

Establishing an inside game makes a lot of sense for Boston, but accomplishing that against Houston is a tall order for sure. It'll require aggressive play, great execution and contributions from different players. Doing all those things will give the Celtics their best shot at winning or at the very least, move them further along the path towards consistency.

Here are some keys to tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Prepare to see the Rockets grounded for a good chunk of the night at the free throw line, and it's not just because of that free-throw magnet known as Dwight Howard. In addition to Howard, who is second in the league with 11.6 free throws per game, fellow Rocket James Harden is right behind him as the league's No. 3 guy in free throw attempts (9.4) per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. James Harden. As one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA, Bradley will have his hands full with Harden whose 25.6 points per game ranks sixth in the NBA. But unlike past years, Bradley seems as comfortable as we've ever seen him at attacking opponents offensively. He has made tremendous strides as a mid-range shooter this season which was on display against Minnesota on Saturday. Bradley scored a season-high 27 points which included shooting 8-for-11 on mid-range jumpers. As for Harden, he continues to score in a variety of ways for the Rockets. He has been especially good at getting points in the paint which is where a career-high 35.7 percent of his points this season are coming from.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Omer Asik has missed Houston's last two games after reportedly asking for a trade. If he and the Rockets are seriously looking for ways to boost his trade value, playing him tonight should help. The Celtics' interior defense has no answer for Dwight Howard. Adding Asik to the equation makes an already difficult job all the more daunting.

STAT TO TRACK: If Boston manages to pull off the upset, it will surely be in part because they forced a ton of turnovers. Not that that's something out of the ordinary for the Rockets who lead the NBA in turnovers with 19.2 per game.