Mark L. Baer/US Presswire
The Celtics don't want to watch Jason Terry and the Mavericks celebrate again.After a four-day vacation from game action, the Boston Celtics (4-4, 3-1 home) launch into a three-game-in-four-night stretch by hosting the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks (5-5, 1-3 away) on Wednesday night at TD Garden (8 p.m., ESPN). Let's preview the battle with a game of 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb.
1. From afar, what's wrong with Dallas so far this season?
Payne: I think the losses of Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea are affecting Dallas the most right now. Chandler is a far better defensive center than Brendan Haywood and Barea was that spark plug-type of player who Dallas seems to be missing right now. In addition, the Lamar Odom experiment hasn't exactly gone according to plan. In short, Dallas doesn't have the same team mojo that it possessed last season.
Robb: Personnel and continuity. Whenever you remove two key components of one's rotation, and one of them is the key to your interior defense, you're bound to run into trouble. Dallas did well with their salary situation to bring in replacements for Chandler, Barea and Co., but ultimately they downgraded in personnel. Combine that with the challenge of integrating new players into their system in a short training camp and an early-season slide in the competitive Western Conference is understandable. Make no mistake, the Mavs have the talent to be a top-four playoff team in the West once everyone gets comfortable, but an early drop-off from last season shouldn't surprise anyone.
Forsberg: Don't forget the bull's-eye. Completely agree with you guys on the personnel issues, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers was quick to point out how difficult it can be for defending champions because, regardless of early-season struggles, teams get up for you each and every night. As Rivers perfectly put it, the opposition brings "championship intensity." He then laughed, because the Celtics know that feeling all too well. The Mavericks will figure it out, but every night is going to be a grind because of that crown.
2. How much do the Celtics miss guard Delonte West?
Payne: The loss of Delonte will be less noticeable once Keyon Dooling's scoring picks up, but right now, with continuity and chemistry being an issue, someone such as West, who knows the team and Rivers' way of doing things, would have helped the bench's adjustment process immensely. I won't say the Celtics aren't tough enough now to get things done, but they definitely lost an element of toughness when West switched cities, and X factors like those can -- and often do -- factor into the outcome of a season.
Robb: More than you think. Boston's failure to bring back West baffled me last month, and while I like Dooling, I think most of the league would choose West as a player over him on the basketball court. Much has been made of West's off-court issues as well as his durability, but the guy is a gamer, and easily one of the best players during the C's playoff run last season. His outside shooting, defensive toughness, combined with his grasp of Doc's system, make me believe the bench woes wouldn't be quite as severe if Delonte was still around.
Forsberg: The bench's early-season struggles make it a little too easy to second-guess whether the Celtics should have been more aggressive in retaining West. I think the team saw Dooling as a comparable player, and with Avery Bradley and E'Twaun Moore already on the roster, it didn't leave much space to add yet another combo guard in West. Once Dooling gets comfortable with the system and becomes a more consistent contributor, the yearning for West might subside. I think there's a lot to like about West's game and it made a lot of sense to bring him back. At the end of the day, I think the Celtics were worried about his durability and maybe settled for a slightly less skilled player who could be on the floor for 60-plus games. The one thing they do miss right now is West's grit.
3. Prediction time: How does Wednesday's game play out?
Payne: Two aging, struggling, veteran teams going at it? It probably won't be the marquee matchup that it would have been a season or two ago (even though it will be nationally televised). Largely due to the rest and productive practices they had these past few days, in addition to it being the second night of a back-to-back for Dallas, there's reason to be optimistic that the Celtics will come out on top. Look for Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce to have the big games for Boston.
Robb: The cards are lined up well for the C's here after four days off, and Dallas coming into town after playing Tuesday night in Detroit. I expect a nip-and-tuck battle with the Mavericks for three quarters, as both teams struggle to get above the .500 barrier. Look for Boston's fresher legs to win out, as the C's defense successfully corrals Dirk Nowitzki and company for an eight-point win along with a successful debut for Mickael Pietrus.
Forsberg: It will be interesting to see how the Celtics come out of the gates Wednesday night. Will they come out crisp and sharp after much-needed practice sessions the past few days? Or will they show a bit of rust from having such an extended break? I think we'll know early how this one is going to play out. If the Celtics come out with energy early on and try to run Dallas out of the building, they probably win. If Boston does what it's done for most of the season and lets the Mavericks hang around for a half, it might not end well. I think we get a quality Boston effort -- and a little spark from Pietrus' debut -- and the Celtics emerge with their first quality win against a playoff team (and some will wonder if it's diminished by the Mavs' early struggles).