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Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo drives against the Nets in January.Riding a two-game winning streak, the Boston Celtics (17-17, 12-8 home) look to climb back above .500 when they welcome the New Jersey Nets (11-25, 8-12 away) on Friday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). To preview the matchup, we go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brendan Jackson.
1. The Nets were without Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries last time around. Who will have a bigger impact for the Nets?
Payne: Definitely Lopez and/or Humphries. I wasn't encouraged by the way Milwaukee's Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova had their way in the paint against the Celtics on Wednesday -- both in the scoring column and on the glass. Lopez is coming off of a monster 38-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks -- one of the league's elite defensive teams -- while Humphries gobbled up 15 total rebounds (four being offensive) against the defending champs. With Jermaine O'Neal still out, I'm worried Boston won't have the personnel needed to handle the trouble New Jersey's frontline pair will pose. Oh, and Deron Williams is no picnic, either, I should add.
Jackson: Lopez. The Nets center completely shredded the Mavericks frontcourt on Tuesday, putting up 38 points against the Mavs' full complement of big men. Sure, Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi aren't exactly world-beaters down low, but they are still legit 7-footers. The Celtics may not have an actual 7-footer on their roster. To combat the Nets' size, they may even consider starting Greg Stiemsma or having Kevin Garnett guard Lopez, and Brandon Bass muscle up to Kris Humphries. Whatever they decide to do, it won't be ideal.
Forsberg: Some will laugh, but it's Humphries to me. His ability to dominate on the glass is dangerous if the Celtics put too much of a focus on limiting Lopez. It's absolutely astounding that we just did this exercise and not a single person picked Williams, but that sort of speaks to the Celtics' overall lack of size up front. But let's not skip the point guard matchup. Rondo is coming off a monster effort at both ends of the floor against the Bucks. It will be interesting to see if he can carry over that success, especially defensively, against Williams.
2. True or false: Former Nets guard Keyon Dooling will assert himself as a rotation player for Boston by season's end?
Payne: True, if he's used as more of a scorer than a distributor. I like that he's been playing off of the ball more lately, with Avery Bradley assuming the backup point guard role. Over Dooling's lengthy career, he's been at his best when his main task is putting the ball in the basket, so as long as he garners consistent minutes, buys into his new role (which he won't have any trouble doing), and stays healthy, he should prove to be a reliable bench commodity for Doc Rivers.
Jackson: False. He may be in the Celtics' rotation by the end of the season, but it certainty won't be through his own assertion. Dooling will be good for the occasional 3-pointer and is a valuable commodity for the Celtics when they choose to utilize a smallish lineup. But it will be in these specialized circumstances where you'll see Dooling, not because of how well he plays.
Forsberg: I'm leaning towards false, but only because when the rotation tightens up, I think we'll see Paul Pierce's minutes extended and that means Pietrus could see more time at the 2. That being said, the Celtics are going to give Dooling every opportunity to carve out a consistent role. Injuries undoubtedly limited him in the first half, but he's gotta get that shot to fall and be a consistent contributor (he did have a couple big hoops on Wednesday). Unlike some at the end of the bench (Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic), Dooling still has his confidence at full throttle and that will aid him in that quest.
3. What's one thing that scares you about this Nets team on Friday?
Payne: Their ability to score the ball. The Nets find themselves in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive efficiency, but without Lopez for the vast majority of the season, they haven't been able to fully showcase their offensive abilities. With Lopez back in the fold, there's some potential for some mean pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop action between him and Williams, and then you have to factor in guys like Marshon Brooks, Anthony Morrow, and, heck, even Gerald Green contributing a slew of baskets between them. Boston's defense will definitely be tested tonight.
Jackson: Williams. He continues to prove that he is one of the best point guards in the league. Rondo will obviously get himself amped up to play Friday, but Williams is far stouter, much taller, and nearly as fast. With the Nets big men back on the court and a healthy MarShon Brooks, Williams has people to pass to again. Deadly.
Forsberg: Watch out for the 3-point shot (the Nets have attempted and made the second most trifecats in the league). But it all comes back to offensive rebounding. Even without Lopez for much of the season, the Nets rank among the league's best teams in grabbing offensive caroms. Much like on Wednesday against the Bucks, Boston absolutely must keep a focus on not allowing second-chance opportunities. The Nets have enough offensive weapons to make it hurt.