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Game 31: Celtics vs. Hornets

at TD Garden, 3 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)

GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)

The Boston Celtics have fared reasonably well without the league's assist leader in the lineup, but an injury to their former NBA defensive player of the year may present a bigger problem.

While Rajon Rondo's status is unclear for Friday's game against the visiting New Orleans Hornets, the Celtics certainly must begin adjusting to life without Kevin Garnett again.

Rondo, who easily leads the NBA with 13.8 assists per game, has missed the last six contests with an ankle injury. While he had originally been targeting Friday for a possible return, the point guard may not be back on the court until 2011.

Boston (24-6) had still managed a 7-2 record this season with Rondo out due to various ailments before Wednesday, when Garnett's departure had a big impact in a 104-92 loss at Detroit. Untouched by any defenders on the play, Garnett injured his right leg on a dunk late in the first quarter.

The Celtics were relieved to hear he has only a strained right calf and not a problem with his surgically repaired right knee. General manager Danny Ainge told WEEI radio on Thursday that he expects the injury to "keep him out for a couple of weeks at the most."

Since the beginning of 2008-09, the Celtics are 112-44 (.718) with Garnett and 24-14 (.632) without him in the regular season, but their lackluster performance against the Pistons may not be the best indicator.

"I think Kevin's injury took a lot of wind out of our players, because we originally thought the injury was a lot more severe than it turned out to be," coach Doc Rivers said. "I think there was a while there where our minds weren't where we needed them to be."

Read the full preview HERE.

FORSBERG'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH

  • Rondo's return? The Celtics hinted earlier this week that Friday's game -- one against all-world point guard Chris Paul -- might be Rajon Rondo's first opportunity to get back on the floor, but he might not be ready quite yet (and the Celtics will likely have to chain him down if they won't clear him at this point). Despite a fair record (4-2) during his six-game absence, Boston clearly misses its offensive quarterback and it's showed in recent games like when the Celtics committed a season-high 21 turnovers vs. Detroit in Wednesday's loss.

  • Bench minus Baby: Coach Doc Rivers is expected to thrust Glen Davis into a starting role with Kevin Garnett sidelined for two weeks with a calf sprain. The good news: Davis has shown he can hold the fort in that role and should thrive in the starting unit (though he's played starters' minutes all season as the primary big off the bench and the late-game closer at the center spot). The bad news: Davis has been the only consistent presence off the Boston bench and that unit must up its level of play as injuries have yet again messed with the chemistry.

  • Who wants to run? The Hornets are one of the slower-paced teams in the league and the Celtics, while in the bottom third of the league as well, would prefer to up the tempo after walking the ball up the floor a lot in recent games. Rondo's return would aid that cause, but even if he can't play, Boston needs to find a way to push the ball up the floor faster to prevent getting into its sets deep in the shot clock (which has forced them to settle for poor shots rather than run their standard offense and generate shots with extra passes).