Celtics-Mavs preview: Slowing Mayo the priority

961681.jpg

Celtics-Mavs preview: Slowing Mayo the priority

BOSTON O.J. Mayo will be in the Garden tonight, but not in the uniform that the Celtics once hoped he would wear.

Mayo was a coveted player by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge in recent years, going so far as to have a deal nearly in place last spring that would have sent Ray Allen to Memphis in exchange for Mayo.

The deal fell apart at the last minute, resulting in Allen finishing up the season in Boston and moving on to Miami, while Mayo has since left the Grizzlies and now plays for the Dallas Mavericks.

With Dirk Nowitzki (right knee surgery) still out, Mayo has become the man for the Mavs this season. And as the Celtics gear up for tonight's matchup, limiting Mayo's impact has to be at or near the top of Boston's wish list.

The fifth-year guard comes into tonight's game as the league's 10th-leading scorer, averaging a career-high 20.8 points per game this season.

"He's getting his points in a variety of different ways," his coach Rick Carlisle, told CSNNE.com. "He's a guy that's becoming a go-to guy for us. I knew he was going to be a good player, but he has exceeded expectations at this point."

How the Celtics handle Mayo will be one of the keys to focus on tonight. Here are some others as the C's try to build off a strong showing last week against Philadelphia.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Dallas wants to get into an uptempo game that will generate at least 100 points for them. When they reach triple digits scoring this season, they're 8-1.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Kaman. These are the kind of games when Garnett's ability to stretch the floor from the center position should pay huge dividends for the Celtics.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has a mismatch most nights, but Derek Fisher presents a different kind of challenge. He doesn't have the athleticism to hold his own against Rondo, but he is a crafty veteran who knows how to play the game at the highest levels and be successful with it.

STAT TO TRACK: Bench scoring has picked up lately for Boston, a trend they will need to continue against a Mavs team that gets a lot of point production from its second unit. Dallas' bench averages 42 points per game which ranks third in the league among bench units while the Celtics are just 20th with a 30.3 points per game average from their backups.

Report: Ainge could prefer George to Butler with Nets pick

Report: Ainge could prefer George to Butler with Nets pick

Will the Celtics part with the right to Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick in order to get a star before Thursday’s trade deadline? 

MORE TRADE TALK

Citing a pair of NBA executives, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News wrote this week that Danny Ainge’s willingness to trade the pick should be in doubt.

Sola named Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Paul George as potential targets, adding that the C’s might include the latter.   

Wrote Isola: 

Two executives doubt that Ainge, who historically plays it close to the vest, would give up the Nets pick in a deal for Butler. However, Ainge might consider it in a trade for George, the Pacers-free agent-to-be who has expressed doubts over re-signing with the Pacers.

‘With Danny, no one ever knows what he might do,' said the executive. ‘He's one of the best. If he thinks he can make a run at the Cavs this season, considering all the injuries Cleveland has had, I can see him making a move.

‘Everyone is talking about Butler to Boston but Danny and Larry Bird go way back. Paul George could be the sleeper.’

This season, the 26-year-old George is averaging 22.3 points 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game. 

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.