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Rajon Rondo and the Celtics look to get back on track in Atlanta.The Boston Celtics (23-21, 7-13 away) can claw a little closer to the Atlanta Hawks (26-19, 13-6 home) in the Eastern Conference standings when the two teams meet Monday night at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m., CSN). The Hawks currently own a 2½-game cushion for the sixth seed with Boston dropping its last two games, but three head-to-head matchups loom before the end of the season. To preview the first, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What about these Atlanta Hawks should scare the Celtics on Monday?
Payne: The potential for a Josh Smith breakout game. Smith continues to be one of the league's most intriguing, but inconsistent, players. One night he's nearing a monster triple-double against the Denver Nuggets, and just a few short days later, he isn't cracking double-digits in points against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Still, he remains a player the Celtics cannot afford to take lightly, as his athleticism and possible domination on the glass could spell disaster for Boston in this one.
Forsberg: Despite what you'd expect from a younger, athletic team, the Hawks don't kill opponents in transition. Instead, they tend to pick their foes apart with spot-up shooting (generating 1.023 points per play, fourth best in the league, according to Synergy Sports data). What's more, spot-up shooting accounts for nearly a quarter of Atlanta's total offensive plays. Defensively, the Hawks are susceptible to both pick-and-roll and putbacks, but are otherwise stout, which means much of the emphasis could fall on Rajon Rondo's ability to make plays (even though Rondo missed both of Boston's wins over the Hawks last season).
2. If the Celtics elect to make a roster move to add a big man, they have to shed someone from their 15-man roster. For the sake of argument, let's say it's not Chris Wilcox. Who gets the boot?
Payne: It has to be either Marquis Daniels or Sasha Pavlovic, right? They won't cut another big man, because they're already too thin up front, and they most likely won't release E'Twaun Moore, simply because he's making such little money (by NBA standards) and they'll want to see if he can blossom at all in future years. Daniels and Pavlovic are making the same amount of money this season -- less than Keyon Dooling -- and it's not quite enough for the argument, "We're paying this guy all this money, so we can't just cut him," to creep in. With Mickael Pietrus getting the bulk of the wing minutes behind Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, there's little doubt that Daniels and Pavlovic have become the most expendable. The question is which one do you part with? Daniels was buried on the bench up until recently, but he's coming off an upstart 8-point effort against the Denver Nuggets. Is that flurry of activity enough for the Celtics to consider keeping him around? Either way, if cuts need to be made, I'm expecting it to be one of those two guys.
Forsberg: If we tackled this question before Saturday's tilt in Denver, Daniels and his previous lack of playing time would have been the easy answer. It might still be. Though Daniels got extended burn against Denver and showed he's still capable of being an impact depth player, the question remains whether Rivers will have the confidence to go back to him. If he's not, it might be beneficial for Boston to buy out Daniels' minimum contract in order to free a spot for a player with a higher-reward potential. Buying out Daniels might be the cheapest option because of his low price tag, though maybe there's more savings if the Celtics can convince Wilcox ($3 million) or O'Neal ($6.2 million) to take sizable cuts in order to cut ties. Don't sleep on Pavlovic, whose defense has been excellent off the bench (albeit in small doses). Remember, too, as the Celtics learned last season, you can never have too much wing depth.