at Prudential Center, 7 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Rondo vs. Williams: Rajon Rondo always seems to look forward to stellar point guard matchups, and going head-to-head with Deron Williams has always qualified as such. The C's will get their first glance at Williams in a Nets uniform, after seeing him once already at home back in January when he was still a member of the Utah Jazz. Rondo's matchup with Williams that night left something to be desired, as Williams got into early foul trouble and contributed just five points and six assists in 23 minutes. Since joining the Nets, Williams has averaged a monster double-double of 15.8 points and 15.2 assists. Williams has missed the Nets' last two games with a wrist injury, but went through a full practice on Sunday and is expected to play tonight.
Renewed Focus: Kevin Garnett suggested after the Celtics' rattled the Milwaukee Bucks, 87-56, on Sunday that the Celtics played with a different focus compared to the team's two prior games that ended up as back-to-back losses. But the Celtics have struggled this season on the second night of back-to-backs against subpar teams on the road. Will they rewrite that same script against the Nets tonight, or will we see the focus from Sunday's win carry over? The good news: Boston's starters got extended rest last night, as only Ray Allen hit the 30-minute mark.
Center of Attention: Nenad Krstic maintained after Sunday's win over Milwaukee that he has a more extended role with the Celtics compared to the one he filled while with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The last two games, Krstic has been made the most of his extra opportunities, as he's registered back-to-back double-doubles. Krstic took a team-high 15 field goal attempts in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last Friday, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds, and followed that up with 11 points and 14 rebounds against the Bucks on Sunday. Krstic had to deal with the crafty Andrew Bogut with Milwaukee in town, and tonight he'll go head-to-head with Brook Lopez, one of the NBA's more promising big men. Krstic will have his work cut out for him tonight, as Lopez has averaged 27.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in his last five games.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
A record-setting defensive effort gave the Boston Celtics back some momentum. They've had plenty of it against the New Jersey Nets in recent years.
The visiting Celtics attempt to stay alone atop the Eastern Conference by sweeping the season series from the Nets, who are expected to have Deron Williams back on the floor Monday night.
Boston (47-17), which has already clinched a playoff berth, leads the East by one-half game over second-place Chicago. The Celtics reclaimed sole possession of the conference lead Sunday by avoiding a three-game losing streak. They routed Milwaukee 87-56, setting a franchise record for fewest points allowed in the shot-clock era by limiting the Bucks to 31.4 percent shooting.
"I think playing defense perfectly is our goal," said guard Ray Allen, who had 17 points Sunday after being held to a season-low five in an 89-86 loss at Philadelphia two nights prior. "That's what we shoot for, but a team can still score while you're doing that."
The Celtics have won 15 of 16 meetings with the Nets (21-43) dating to the 2006-07 season. They've taken all three matchups in 2010-11, holding New Jersey to a paltry 79.3 points per game.
Boston won the most recent contest 100-75 on Dec. 5 in Newark, limiting the Nets' starters to 28 points.
Sweeping the season series won't necessarily be a given with the return of Williams, who missed the last two games as his wife gave birth to their fourth child in Dallas.
Read the full preview HERE.