Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Rondo vs. Rose -- Rivalries renewed as Celtics meet Bulls Friday night.After dipping below .500 with Wednesday's loss to the Mavericks, the Boston Celtics (4-5, 3-2 home) face the daunting task of trying to get back on track against the Chicago Bulls (10-2, 6-2 away) Friday night at TD Garden (8 p.m., ESPN). We got 3-on-3 with our good friends Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago and Greg Payne of ESPN Boston to preview this East showdown:
1. Fact or fiction: KG and Noah will get into a dust-up on Friday.
Payne: Fiction. KG's many dust-ups have always been somewhat tolerable because of his play on the court. He's played well, so he's earned the right to mix it up with opposing players and run his mouth a bit. But the last thing anyone should do is talk smack when they aren't playing well, and if Noah out-rebounds Garnett by a wide margin tomorrow, Garnett will not have earned the right to say much of anything.
Friedell: Fiction. Last season this would have been more likely, but Noah is struggling to stay on the floor late in games at the moment. Boston's old friend Tom Thibodeau has benched Noah and Carlos Boozer four times in the fourth quarter early this season. Noah is not playing with the same confidence he had last year. I think the Bulls are hoping that Garnett's presence will bring it out of him on Friday, but I don't think they'll be getting in a brawl.
Forsberg: Fact. Two guys in need of a spark, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if they bring a little emotion out of each other (which isn't necessarily a bad thing for either side). I'm not suggesting there needs to be fists flying, but a good old-fashioned double technical and some healthy jawing never hurt anybody (except Kendrick Perkins and his season tech total in 2010). Let's see if Noah calls Garnett "dirty" or "ugly" or "mean," and whether Garnett acknowledges a "nobody."
2. How much do the Boston Celtics miss Brian Scalabrine?
Payne: Oh, so much. Are you kidding me? I think it's become evident this season that Scal was the glue to this entire operation and everything is unraveling without him. Kevin Garnett's claimed to be the glue of this year's team, and look how that's turned out. No, I'm joking, of course. In all seriousness, Scal has a great personality and a high basketball IQ and it's always beneficial for a team to have a guy like that in the locker room.
Friedell: I know Doc Rivers misses having him in the locker room. Rivers has said on numerous occasions that Scal can have a job on his coaching staff whenever he decides to retire. But let's be real, Scal is missed by the Boston fans a hell of a lot more than he is by the team. The players, both in Boston and Chicago, genuinely like him and are happy to be around him. But the Celtics need difference makers on the floor -- in that regard Scal's absence is merely a blip on the radar.
Forsberg: No one is going to suggest that Scalabrine would have been the difference in pushing the Celtics past the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year, or turning around this 4-5 start. But I do think Boston misses both his leadership and his ability to go something like a month without being active, then hop into the lineup as a spot starter without missing a beat. And, ultimately, yes, it's the fans that miss him the most. Alas, with this team grinding through every game, it's unlikely he would have been on the floor much, even in late-game situations.
3. If the C's and Bulls meet in a playoff series, who wins?
Payne: If things don't change soon for the Celtics, I'd have to go with the Bulls. They're younger, more athletic, and they're an elite rebounding team. I'd be worried about them thoroughly dominating the Celtics on the glass, which would lead to a hefty disparity in second-chance points in Chicago's favor. I'm worried that right now the Bulls have all the pieces to pick the Celtics apart and the C's don't have the right personnel to counteract what Chicago would be throwing at them.
Friedell: The Bulls. But aside from the Miami Heat, there isn't a team that scares Thibodeau and his team more than a healthy Celtics team. If, and of course it's a big if, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Garnett can stay healthy heading into the postseason, they could definitely give the Bulls all they can handle in a seven game series.
Forsberg: The Bulls and, at the moment, it's not even close. There's this perception that, in a seven-game series, the Celtics might be better fit to challenge one of the East's top dogs. But nothing about their play thus far, suggests that's true. And, if we're being honest, the Celtics still match up better with the Heat than the Bulls, so the idea of encountering Chicago in anything but the Eastern Conference finals is far from ideal.
Bonus Question. The Bulls currently have 10 wins; the Celtics have 4. On what date will the Celtics reach double figures for wins?
Payne: January 27 against the Pacers. (I'm predicting an 8-3 record for the rest of this month, with losses coming at the hands of Chicago, Oklahoma City, and in Orlando.)
Friedell: January 26 against the Magic.
Forsberg: I added this question just to highlight how challenging this January schedule might be despite a home-heavy slate. There's the very real chance that the Celtics might not get to double-digit wins until February. Three of the 11 games remaining this month are the second nights of back-to-backs (two against Indiana and another against Orlando) and the next three games (Chicago, Indiana, and Oklahoma City) are incredibly daunting given Boston's struggles out of the gates. I'll pessimistically go with January 29 against the Cavaliers, but here's some optimism for you -- the Celtics beat the Bulls Friday. Why? When all signs points in one direction, you should usually go the other way. Maybe it's the spark the Celtics need to build some momentum.