Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Back to work

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Back to work
December 28, 2013, 10:15 am
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BOSTON — The three-day break could not have come at a better time for the Boston Celtics, losers of three in a row.

It afforded players a chance to get away from the game and reflect on what's not working and what they can do to change things.

When it comes to describing the Celtics' problems of late, Jeff Green doesn't mince his words.

"Lately we've been (bleep) the past couple games; we've been giving up a lot of points," he said. "A lot of easy looks."

Boston comes into Saturday's game against Cleveland having given up 100 or more points in three straight games. Doing so again would tie the longest streak of the season.

Cleveland's defense has been even worse, with opponents cracking the 100-point plateau in each of their last seven games.

Green said the team's problems defensively stem from a lack of focus.

"That's all I can really say," he said. "Our focus wasn't there all the way, including me. We weren't locked in on the defensive end. We were more worried about offense at that point."

And that's a major problem for a team whose defense has been instrumental in their play this season.

Avery Bradley points to a lack of energy as being a main culprit in the team's slippage defensively.

"It's like night and day," he said. "It's obvious when you watch film."

And it's obvious that the Celtics see the three days away from the game as a chance to gather themselves for what they believe will be improved play going forward.

"It was an opportunity for us to get our rest," Green said. "It allowed us to really think about what we need to do to get back on the right track. Defense is the key."

Here are more keys to today's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  Generating points on mid-range jumpers will be huge for both teams. The Celtics are shooting 41.7 percent on mid-range jumpers, the eighth-best mark in the NBA. The Cavaliers (41 percent) aren't too far behind, coming in at No. 10.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Kyrie Irving: One of the first signs this season of Bradley's much-improved shooting touch came when he was 9-for-11 shooting and outscored Irving, 21-17, during Boston's blowout win over the Cavs on Nov. 29. Irving is coming off a 40-point, nine assist game and the Celtics will have their hands full, beginning with Bradley, in keeping Irving from putting up similar numbers.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  If the Cavs stick with their most recent starting five, Jeff Green will have a longer defender to contend with in Earl Clark. Still, Green should still be able to make a major impact. Maybe not 31 points like he did in their first matchup in November, but he should have a better-than-average scoring night for Boston.

STAT TO TRACK:  Boston's rebounding has taken a step back during its last three games, ranking 27th in the league during that span compared to their season ranking, which is 23. But the Cavaliers have been even worse. Although Cleveland ranks 12th in the league in rebounding this season, they are next-to-last in the category in the last three games.