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

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

MINNEAPOLIS The Boston Celtics (28-22) are focused on winning as many games as possible to improve their playoff position. And while most players shrug off the notion that they're keeping tabs on what other team's are doing, once again we turn to Paul Pierce for - what else? - the Truth. He doesn't try to hide the fact that he knows the Celtics are in a back-and-forth tussle with Philadelphia for the best record in the Atlantic Division - and with it, home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Both are currently tied for the best record in the Atlantic Division.

"I follow it religiously," said Pierce, who added that he's constantly checking various websites for up-to-the-minute statistics and game accounts. "I'm always checking the scores, even during the games, in the middle, checking out who's winning. I'm just a basketball junkie; it's something I live, and I'm sure the other guys probably do the same things I do and are very aware of it."

Even if they don't want to admit to it!

And while much has been made of the C's playing tougher competition down the stretch than Philadelphia - tonight the C's face a playoff contender in Minnesota while the Sixers are on the road against a horrible Washington team - Boston refuses to put much stock into such talk.

"Every team's tough," C's coach Doc Rivers said. "The way we look at it, every team's a playoff team because we make them that or they are. So we just have to stay focused each game."

Maintaining that focus will certainly be put to the test tonight against a Minnesota squad that's fighting to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 - the longest postseason drought of any current NBA team.

Here are some of the keys to tonight's action.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR As much as rebounding is an issue for the Celtics, it won't do them much good if they do a good job on the boards and don't get out and take advantage of scoring opportunities in transition. The C's average 12.2 points per game in fast break points, which ranks 19th in the NBA. But in Minnesota, they're facing one of the most "fast-break friendly" teams in the NBA. Timberwolves opponents are averaging 16.2 fast-break points per game which ranks 29th in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Kevin Love: The face of franchise past meets the face of franchise present in this duel. The Love-for-league-MVP chatter might have seemed a pipe dream a couple weeks ago, but it isn't that big a stretch now. He's averaging 26.3 points and 13.9 rebounds, numbers the NBA hasn't seen since Moses Malone averaged 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds during the 1981-1982 season which, by the way, ended with Malone being named league MVP. Garnett, who has delivered strong play for the C's at both ends of the floor all season, recently talked about finding added motivation in facing superstars of the future. "Playing against younger talent that's supposed to be prolific and supposed to be above-average but I'm old though, you know?" said Garnett, who was speaking about talented, young players in general and not specifically Kevin Love. "It don't take much to motivate me."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has been quietly putting together one of the greatest seasons by a Celtics playmaker ever. He comes into tonight's game with double-digit assists in 11 straight games, a franchise record. He had a nine-game stretch last year. To put his numbers in perspective, no Celtics player prior to Rondo had ever had more than seven straight double-digit assist games.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Timberwolves off the free throw line will be huge for the Celtics tonight. Minnesota averages 25.6 free throw attempts per game which ranks sixth in the league. And when you throw in the fact that they rank in the top 10 in free throw percentage (77.9 percent, ninth in the NBA), the C's can't bank on them missing too many.

Despite Crowder's ties to Falcons, Celtics pulling for Patriots in Super Bowl

Despite Crowder's ties to Falcons, Celtics pulling for Patriots in Super Bowl

WALTHAM --  Go up and down the Boston Celtics roster and you won’t have any trouble finding players who will be cheering on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
 
But there are some Celtics who understandably have mixed feelings about the game.
 
Among them is Jae Crowder, who grew up in Villa Rica, Ga. which is about 32 miles outside of Atlanta.
 
“I’ve been cheering for the Falcons all my life,” Crowder said. “I’m here in Boston; I’ve been a Patriots fan.”
 
And within that fandom, Crowder has developed a friendship with New England players, among them being Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount.
 
Not soon after the Patriots punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, Crowder got a text message from Blount.
 
“He knows,” Crowder said of Blount. “Yeah, he knows I’m in between.”
 
Isaiah Thomas, whose hometown Seattle Seahawks were beaten by the Falcons, said Crowder didn’t become a Falcons fan until they made the playoffs.
 
“Bandwagon? But I just took his money though,” quipped Crowder, referring to the Falcons beating the Seahawks in an earlier round of the playoffs. “We did them Seahawks real dirty; bandwagon.”
 
He’s not the only Celtics player with ties to Atlanta.
 
Boston rookie Jaylen Brown grew up just a few minutes outside of Atlanta in Marietta, Ga.
 
Thomas said Brown is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
 
“I don’t know how that is,” Thomas said. “Don’t let him tell you he’s an Atlanta Falcons fan. Jae just started reppin’ them when they made the playoffs. They can do what they want; they might as well root for the Patriots.”
 
For Thomas, cheering for the Patriots is more than just supporting his fellow professional athletes. As he tries to continue growing as a player and a leader for the Celtics, the Patriots and the way they do things in many ways has been a blueprint of sorts for Thomas.
 
“They’re the team you want to be,” Thomas said. “Every year they give themselves a chance. From top to bottom, they’re 100 percent professional. They think championship every year. That’s how you should be. We want to model that. Hopefully the can go out and win it, and we can try to piggy-pack on what they did.”
 
Another Celtic with Atlanta ties is Al Horford, who made it clear which team had his support.
 
“Going to school in Florida, being in the south for so many years, college football is kind of my thing,” said Horford, who revealed that he never attended a Falcons during his nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. “I would watch them on TV and stuff like that. I know it’s exciting for them. It’s a big deal to be in the Super Bowl. But I’m here in New England now so I’ll be cheering for the Patriots.”

Andy Dalton named Tom Brady's Pro Bowl replacement

Andy Dalton named Tom Brady's Pro Bowl replacement

With Tom Brady spending this week and next preparing for the Super Bowl, Andy Dalton has been named his replacement in the Pro Bowl. 

This will mark Dalton’s third Pro Bowl appearance. He finished fourth in the AFC in passing yards (4,206) and tied for 10th with 18 passing touchdowns. Brady threw 10 more touchdowns in four fewer games. 

Though he’s often skipped the actual games, this was the 12th season in which Brady was named to the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last eight seasons.