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

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

DEERFIELD, Ill. The Chicago Bulls (24-7) have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Throw in their 95-91 loss at Boston on Sunday, and you can count on the Celtics (15-13) getting a stronger effort from the Bulls, regardless of whether Bulls star Derrick Rose (back) is in the lineup tonight.

"He's still day-to-day; he's feeling better," said Bulls coach and former Celtics assistant, Tom Thibodeau. "He just did some shooting today. He's still a game-time decision."

Rose said he'll have treatments for his back now in addition to when he arrives at the United Center later tonight.

The Celtics have their own health-related concerns heading into tonight's game.

In addition to being without Brandon Bass (left knee), the Celtics may have to play without Kevin Garnett as well.

A hip flexor injury sidelined Garnett in Wednesday's 98-88 home loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Garnett, like Rose, will also be a game-time decision.

The health of the reigning league MVP (Rose) and a former league MVP (Garnett) are certainly important factors in tonight's game.

But they aren't the only ones.

We'll take a look at a few others right now.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - You can bet Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been on his team lately for how freely they have allowed other teams to score. Despite having the third-best scoring defense (88 points per game) in the NBA this season, the Bulls have given up 105 points per game in their last two games which includes a 95-91 loss to Boston. "Defensively, we have to play a lot better," Thibodeau said. "Our defense has been OK most of the year. But the last two games, it's not where we want it to be."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Ray Allen vs. Ronnie Brewer: Allen is currently trying to snap out of a mini-shooting slump in which he has averaged 7.7 points on 31.8 percent shooting from the field in the C's last three games. In addition, Allen has missed six of his seven 3-point attempts in that span. Brewer is what you'd call an intangibles guy who does a lot of little things to help the Bulls win, but may not necessarily show up in the final statistics. Against the Celtics, that would be trying to continue making Ray Allen an ineffective scorer.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Paul Pierce will look to bounce back from an inexplicable performance in Wednesday's loss to Detroit. He had 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, but never at any point in the game looked like he was ready to take over. Rajon Rondo's career night scoring the ball did have a downside - it kept Pierce from ever getting into any kind of flow because Rondo had it going with points in the paint as well as from the perimeter hitting jumpers. Look for the Celtics to try and establish Pierce as a scorer early tonight.

STAT TO TRACK - Celtics coach Doc Rivers was not pleased with his team's lack of ball movement in the loss to Detroit. Indeed, it was an unusual night for the the C's in terms of spreading the wealth. Boston scores via an assist on 64.6 percent of their made baskets, which is tops in the NBA. In the 98-88 loss to the Pistons, the Celtics had 16 assists on 34 made baskets, or 47 percent. For Boston to have a shot at winning, they'll likely need to be trending close to what they normally do in terms of assists to field goals made this season.

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

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Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard and fighting that hard to see pucks and find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

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Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.

Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.

“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”

It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston. 

The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.

“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”

A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.