Celtics-Nets preview: Christmas in Brooklyn

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Celtics-Nets preview: Christmas in Brooklyn

NEW YORK The addition of Jarvis Varnado was designed to bolster the Celtics' frontcourt, which took another hit with Chris Wilcox's thumb injury that'll keep him out for almost a month.

The C's will need all the help they can muster on the boards on Christmas Day when they face the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.

A few more rebounds - OK, a lot more rebounds - would be the perfect gift for the Celtics on Christmas Day especially when you consider that it is easily their biggest weakness.

Each of the two previous matchups between these two, both Brooklyn wins, included the Nets outscoring the C's 23-11 in the second-chance points.

Brooklyn won the rebounding battle in both games as well, by an average of six rebounds per game which is slightly above the rebounding deficit the C's face most games.

By no means is the addition of Varnado viewed as a savior of sorts for the Celtics rebounding woes - it's not a given that he will even play - but having another body can only help in the one area that the C's desperately need to make strides towards improving to have any shot at having the kind of deep playoff run they envision.

Here are some other keys to the game as the Celtics (13-13) look to draw even with the Nets (14-12) for the second-best record in the Atlantic Division behind New York.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Both Boston and Brooklyn have had their issues at times this season in limiting opponents to shooting a low percentage. Teams are shooting 45 percent against the C's this season, which ranks 18th in field goal percentage defense. Nets' foes have connected on 45.9 percent of their shots which comes in at No. 24.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jason Collins vs. Brook Lopez: This is the kind of matchup that should validate why Collins is in the starting lineup. He's not going to outscore Lopez unless Lopez gets tossed in the game's first minute. But if Collins is doing his job, he'll be making it a lot tougher for Lopez, who has averaged 16.5 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots while shooting 62.5 percent from the field against the C's this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry will surely have something to prove. He is coming off a 1-for-15 shooting performance, the kind of game that he has bounced back from quickly. He has had four such games this season in which he made one field goal or less. In the four games that followed, Terry has shot 50 percent from the field (17-for-34) while averaging 11.5 points per game.

STAT TO TRACK: The three-point shot has not been a weapon of choice by the Celtics, who come in averaging 5.4 threes per game, which ranks 28th in the league. They have been even worse in their two games against the Nets this season, shooting 8-for-20 on threes. Boston's ability to hit the long ball will go far in their quest to defeat Brooklyn.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.