Celtics-Blazers preview: Bench will be counted on

953103.jpg

Celtics-Blazers preview: Bench will be counted on

BOSTON With Rajon Rondo serving the first of his two-game suspension for fighting Brooklyn's Kris Humphries tonight, Boston has no choice but to turn to its bench.

Against the Portland Trail Blazers, that can be a good thing ... a very good thing.

The Blazers (6-9) come into tonight's game on a three-game losing skid that includes a loss to then-winless Washington.

Portland's struggles are in large part due to an ineffective bench which is averaging a league-low 12.3 points per game.

Boston's second unit is averaging 30.7 points per game which ranks 21st in the NBA.

However, the C's reserves will not be at full strength - and some might not even play tonight.

Chris Wilcox has been under the weather and was unable to finish Wednesday's loss to Brooklyn. Also, Jeff Green has a sprained right knee injury that may sideline him as well.

"I don't care who doesn't play," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "The guys that play have to be ready to play and ready to win."

Bench play will indeed play a prominent role in tonight's matchup. Here are some other keys as the Celtics look to snap a two-game losing skid and avoid falling below-.500 at home this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  Boston and Portland are the two most rebounding-challenged teams in the NBA. The C's are dead-last (out of 30 teams) at 37.1 boards per game while the Blazers are just ahead of them at No. 29, bringing in just 39.4 boards per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH:  Kevin Garnett vs. LaMarcus Aldridge: Garnett's ability to stretch the floor won't do him much good against Aldridge who brings that same skillset to the floor. Both have strong all-around games, although Garnett's defense is better.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Without Rondo, Courtney Lee will have more opportunities to score. That's exactly how things played out in the lone game Rondo missed this season. Lee had a season-high 13 points which is his only double-digit scoring game this season.

STAT TO TRACK: The second quarter has seen the Celtics at their worst far too often. They average an NBA-low 21.9 points per game in the quarter. That wouldn't be that big a deal if opponents weren't scoring an average of 24.8 points per game.

Celtics-Hawks preview: Thomas 'not worried about' Schroeder

Celtics-Hawks preview: Thomas 'not worried about' Schroeder

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. –  Isaiah Thomas has respect for the Atlanta Hawks team.

So when I asked him about the Hawks, Thomas spoke glowingly about Paul Millsap as being a “special player” and Dwight Howard having a huge impact on shot attempts whether he’s blocking them or not.

But he knows all eyes will be on him and Hawks point guard Dennis Schroeder who had some not-so-nice things to say about Thomas following Boston’s 103-101 win at Atlanta on Jan. 13.

The two waged a feisty, highly combative game most of the Jan. 13 game with Thomas getting the better of Schroeder in just about every statistical category such as scoring (28 points for Thomas compared to 4 for Schroeder), assists (nine to three), and minutes played (36:16 to 22:36).

And then there was the one statistic that mattered most … the win.

But after the game, Schroeder told reporters that Thomas had spoken badly about his mother.

“I’m playing basketball,” Schroder told reporters after the game in January. “If he think that he got to curse at my mom or say some dumb stuff about my family, that has nothing to do with basketball. That’s his choice. I’ve got too much class for that. Next one, we are going to get it.”

The news got back to Thomas who emphatically denied he said anything along those lines.

“I don’t talk about nobody’s mom,” Thomas said when he became aware of Schroeder’s comments. “I don’t cuss at anybody’s mom and I don’t talk about people’s family. So whatever he said, that’s a 100 percent lie and he knows that.”

When I asked Thomas about Schroeder following Boston’s 104-98 win at Detroit Sunday night, he had little to say about the Hawks point guard.

“Man I’m past that. I’m not worried about that guy,” Thomas said. “Once he did that the last game, where he tried to damage my character, (saying I was) talking about his parents … I’m past that. Hopefully we can beat the Atlanta Hawks. I’m not even worried about him.”

Schroeder may not be on Thomas’ radar as a major concern, but the players he spoke of earlier – Millsap and Howard – are two players who can have a significant impact on whether the Celtics can continue to build off of the good things they did against the Pistons.

And Atlanta (32-26) will come in extremely thirsty for success having lost their last three games – all by 15 or more points - and four of the last five.

Despite the Hawks recent struggles, the Celtics understand that despite their success this season they are in no position to take any team lightly.

“They’re a good team. They play the game the right way,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “They have some really good players, some really good shooters, really good bigs down low. We have to come out and play harder than them, match their intensity, execute, move the ball, share the ball and have fun.”

Shaughnessy: Why I'm not a fan of Celtics not trading at deadline

Shaughnessy: Why I'm not a fan of Celtics not trading at deadline

Dan Shaughnessy joins Sports Sunday and talks with Felger about why he hated the Boston Celtics not making any moves at the deadline.