By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON If you look at the record of the Boston Celtics' opponent tonight, the Charlotte Bobcats, you would think it was just another night in which the C's hosted a bad team.
But the Bobcats (15-21) are not your run-of-the-mill, below-.500 club.
For starters, they have a new coach in ex-Celtic Paul Silas.
Since Silas took over for Larry Brown, the Bobcats are 6-2.
In fact, if the playoffs were today, the Celtics and their Conference-best record of 29-9 would open against an eighth-seeded Charlotte club.
Not only are the Bobcats looking to run more, but they've also played a greater sense of mental toughness down the stretch in close games.
Prior to Silas' arrival, Charlotte was on the losing end of eight of their 12 games decided by five points or less.
Silas has coached the Bobcats in four such games, and has emerged victorious three times.
"They're playing well," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Especially point guard D.J. Augustin.
The last time the C's saw him, he was scoreless with four turnovers as the Celtics crushed the Bobcats, 93-62, in Charlotte.
In the last eight games under Silas, Augustin has averaged 19.9 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and 47.7 percent from 3-point range.
As for the Celtics, one of their biggest concerns has to be keeping the Bobcats off the boards.
That challenge will become even more daunting with the litany of injuries that have hit the Celtics frontcourt.
Kevin Garnett is expected to miss his ninth straight game due to an injury to his lower right leg suffered at Detroit on Dec. 29. Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal continues to have problems with his left knee, and is out. The C's are contemplating him having surgery, which likely means he'll be out of the mix for an extended period of time. Boston center Semih Erden has a sore groin which may keep him out of tonight's game as well.
With all the injuries, the C's may lean more than ever on Shaquille O'Neal whose earl foul trouble has made him a non-factor in recent games.
In six games this month, O'Neal has averaged 7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. At this rate, this would be the lowest-scoring and rebounding month in his illustrious Hall of Fame career.
Against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, O'Neal had more fouls (four) than points (two) for the second time this season. Prior to becoming a Celtic, that had only happened once to O'Neal in his entire career.
One Celtics player who doesn't need to change a thing, is Ray Allen.
The C's second-leading scorer this season, Allen has shot at least 50 percent from the field in his last 10 games, the longest such stretch by a Celtics player since Kendrick Perkins set the franchise record last season when he shot 50 percent or better from the field in 24 consecutive games.