Preview: Celtics vs. Grizzlies

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Preview: Celtics vs. Grizzlies

BOSTON The Boston Celtics (12-10) are finally an above-.500 basketball team.Next goal?Joining the upper echelon of teams in the East.The C's have a ways to go before getting there, but a win today over a solid Memphis (12-11) team couldn't hurt.And like most of the NBA, the Grizzlies have had to play games without key players.All-Star forward Zach Randolph suffered a torn MCL early in the season which has kept him out for all but four games this season. He's not expected back until early March.The C's have their own injuries to worry about, although their core guys seem to all be improving, health-wise.Injuries happen, regardless of whether you have a typical NBA season or this condensed one courtesy of the NBA lockout.For the C's, the focus now is pretty clear - keep finding ways to win."We've gone through a lot; so has everyone else in this league," said coach Doc Rivers. "It's not just us. To start out slow like we did and get over (.500) - it's good for us. We've just got to keep doing it. We've got to just keep working on it."And that work continues today against the Grizzlies, a team that the C's will have to play well against in order to defeat. Here are some of the key points the Celtics will have to contend with if they are to win their fourth straight game.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:Although you don't hear his name - his first name, at least - too often, Memphis center Marc Gasol is a player the Celtics have to be concerned about. Gasol, the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol, is one of 12 NBA players averaging a double-double of points and rebounds this season. As much as his scoring helps Memphis, he does a nice job of clogging up the lane as well. His presence is a big reason why the Grizzlies are only giving up 37.7 points per game in the paint which ranks 5th in the NBA.MATCHUP TO WATCH:Ray Allen vs. Tony Allen. Having spent the bulk of his career with the Celtics, few have a better understanding and feel for how to contain Ray Allen. Plus, Tony Allen is a heck of a defender whose defensive presence in Memphis is similar to how Kevin Garnett is viewed by the Celtics. "He's like an Army General," Grizzlies guard Mike Conley told the Commercial-Appeal. "He says crazy things but goes out there and backs it up." However, Ray Allen has shown lately that he can still have a major impact on the game without scoring, if teams spend too much time and effort keying in on him. Averaging 2.8 assists per game this season, Ray Allen has averaged five assists in Boston's last three games which includes a season-high eight assists in Boston's 93-90 win at Cleveland on Jan. 31.PLAYER TO WATCH: Although he's not one of Boston's main attractions, Chris Wilcox is starting to provide just what the Celtics need in the front-court. In Boston's 91-89 win over New York on Friday, Wilcox was a huge part of the win despite some less-than-stellar numbers. He had six points and four rebounds, all of which were offensive boards. "I thought Chris Wilcox was the hero," said C's coach Doc Rivers after the Knicks win.STAT TO TRACK: Memphis leads the NBA in steals (10.6) per game, which means Boston's transition defense will have its hands full today. Those turnovers are a big part of why the Grizzlies average 17.3 fast-break points per game, which ranks No. 3 in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston's defense as a whole has been solid this season. They have the league's second-best scoring defense, giving up just 87 points per game. And they're just as stingy when it comes to limiting fast-break scoring, giving up just 10 points per game which ranks No. 2 in the NBA.

Shaughnessy: Everything Farrell does blows up in his face, particularly in 8th inning

Shaughnessy: Everything Farrell does blows up in his face, particularly in 8th inning

Dan Shaughnessy joins Sports Tonight to discuss Rick Porcello giving up a game-tying homerun in the 8th, and explains why John Farrell has been very unlucky with any decision he makes.

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.