The Boston Celtics come to the City of Broad Shoulders tonight to take on the Eastern Conference leading Chicago Bulls. The 15-13 Celtics, losers of 3 of their last 4 and currently sitting in the 7-spot in the East, begin a 5-game road trip against coach Tom Thibodeau’s guys at the United Center, where the Bulls are tied with OKC for the best home record in the league at 10-1.
A bright spot for coach Doc Rivers’ squad in regard to their sub-par performances of late came this past Sunday, when these same two sides met up in Beantown and the C’s prevailed 95-91 behind 6th-year PG Rajon Rondo’s 32 points, 10 boards and 15 assists. The ‘W’ came with a caveat, however, because reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose was out with back problems.
The Bulls last played on Tuesday at home where they bested a scrappy, energetic Sacramento Kings team 121-115 to improve to 24-7 overall. On this Valentine’s Day matchup, Chicago came out on top despite being Rose-less once again. In their floor leader’s absence, 8th-year SF Luol Deng expanded his distribution game and dished out a career-high 11 assists to go along with 23 points and his usual excellent defense. C Joakim Noah had 22 points, 11 boards and 4 blocks in the victory that clinched the Eastern Conference coaching spot for 2nd-year head man Thibodeau.
As for the veteran-laden Celts, they lost last night at home 98-88 to a Detroit Pistons team that came into the contest a meager 2-12 on the road. 17th-year, former league MVP Kevin Garnett missed his first game of the season with a hip-pointer and will be a game-time decision tonight. Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 35 points, but it wasn’t enough as Detroit outscored the Green 25-16 in the fourth quarter. While Rondo was lighting it up, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce both had off nights, combining to shoot only 4 for 16, with zero 3-pointers. 10th-year PF Chris Wilcox stepped into the starting lineup in place of KG and played well, putting up 17 points and 9 boards.
This compacted 66-game regular season (in addition to the very short pre-season) has many basketball people theorizing about what type of team will benefit and what sort of team will struggle with all of the back-to-backs and the compressed scheduling. In this 2011-12 NBA universe will an older, wiser, savvier group benefit from the somewhat unorthodox season setup? Or will a young-legs, bouncy, high-energy roster be capable of hitting the gas night after night and wearing out opponents? No matter the argument or angle of examination on this topic, basketball is a team sport like none other and different players with varied hoops resumes will have to figure out ways to contribute in order for their teams to excel in this game after game after game environment.
Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls tips off at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.