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

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

BOSTON The last game before a long road trip is never easy.

Then again, has there really been anything easy about this season for the Boston Celtics?

With a grueling eight-game road trek ahead of them beginning after tonight's game against Portland, it would be easy - and a huge mistake - for the Celtics to look past the Blazers (19-20). While they do come into tonight's game with a sub-.500 record, Portland is indeed a better team than their record indicates.

In fact, tonight's game will be their first all season in which they come in with a below-.500 record.

Right now, location and opponent's record are irrelevant to the C's.

"We want to try to continue to win games," said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "The bottom line is we want to win, win, win."

And to do so tonight will require some things to go their way.

Here are a few to consider as the C's try to extend their season-best winning streak at home to five straight against a Portland team that's in the early stages of a long road trip that began with a loss at Minnesota on Wednesday, and won't end until March 18 at Oklahoma City.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Establishing tempo will once again be important for the Celtics. They face a Portland team that averages 98.1 points per game which ranks fifth in the NBA. For Boston, keeping Portland's scoring down will likely mean forcing them to turn the ball over more than usual. The Blazers average just 14 turnovers per game which ranks fourth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Marcus Camby: This will be one of the few games all season where you won't hear any mention of Garnett's age being an issue. Regardless of who has been at center, Garnett has been on a nice roll of late for the Celtics with seven double-doubles scoring and rebounding, in Boston's last nine games. Camby, who will be 38 years old later this month, doesn't score with the same level of efficiency as Garnett. But he does provide Portland with a similar defensive presence in the middle.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Nicolas Batum has the reputation of being a better-than-average defender, but he's slowly evolving into a reliable scorer as well. He's averaging a career-high 14.2 points this season, with 17 or more points scored in nine of Portland's last 11 games. With his size (6-8, 200) and length, Ray Allen will once again have his hands full getting free for good looks at the basket.

STAT TO TRACK - If tonight's game is close going into the fourth quarter, it becomes a virtual toss-up as to who will win. Boston has the NBA's best scoring defense in the fourth quarter, giving up a league-low 21.9 points per game. But Portland's scorers will challenge the C's in the fourth unlike few teams have thus far this season. The Blazers average 24.9 points scored in the fourth which ranks No. 2 in the NBA.

Report: Celtics fail to make trade at deadline

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Report: Celtics fail to make trade at deadline

At first, hopes for a superstar coming to Boston were dashed . . . 

And then, hopes of anyone coming to Boston were dashed . . . 

Of course, is this is true, the breakdown of the George talks isn't such a bad thing:

More to come . . . 

Avery Bradley returns to practice, but injury status remains uncertain

Avery Bradley returns to practice, but injury status remains uncertain

Avery Bradley was back on the practice floor after missing the Celtics' past 16 games, but it's unclear if he'll travel to Toronto for Friday night's game.

Boston Celtics, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Brad Stevens, Toronto Raptors, A. Sherrod Blakely 
 
WALTHAM, Mass. – Avery Bradley was back on the practice floor briefly at the first gathering of the Celtics since the All-Star break.
 
Now returning to the floor in an actual game? That remains a bit up in the air.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Bradley practiced in a limited fashion on Thursday, adding that his status for the Friday night game at Toronto remains unclear.
 
“Avery practiced about a third of the practice today which was about what our medical staff determined was the appropriate progression,” Stevens said. “He [Bradley] told me afterwards he felt really good.”
 
As far as his availability for Friday, Stevens said he did not have an update and was not told by the medical staff whether Bradley would be traveling with the team to Toronto when they leave later this afternoon.
 
Bradley is dealing with a right Achilles' injury that has kept him sidelined for the past 16 games and 20 of the past 21.
 
The news is much better when it comes to the health of Jaylen Brown.
 
Brown missed the past three games, but said he was feeling better and would be traveling with the team to Toronto.
 
“I’m looking to play in Toronto,” he said.
 
The return of Brown can only help a Celtics team that’s looking to pick up where they left off prior to the break.
 
Boston’s ascension to the No. 2 spot in the East has been fueled by wins in 11 of the past 13 games.
 
Despite that success, Stevens knows all too well that a roster change of some sort could go down at any minute prior to today’s 3 p.m . trade deadline.
 
“When you’re in position where you’re playing at a pretty good level, you don’t anticipate much change,” Stevens said. “But certainly there could be small things; there may not be. At the end of the day, my job is to try and focus on the 15 guys that are here.”