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Rajon Rondo vs. Deron Williams headlines Celtics vs. Nets.The Boston Celtics (34-25, 13-16 away) stumbled out of the gates at the start of a back-to-back-to-back in Toronto on Friday, now they'll look to get back on track Saturday evening against the New Jersey Nets (22-38, 9-20 home) at the Prudential Center (7:30 p.m., CSN). To preview the middle game of this three-day arena hop, we go 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What will you be focussed on when the C's visit the Nets?
Payne: I'll be interested in the point guard matchup. With the exception of their recent tilt with the San Antonio Spurs, it's been a while since we've seen Rajon Rondo go up against one of the game's elite quarterbacks, and Deron Williams easily qualifies. There was a time when Rondo appeared to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder whenever he went up against the top players as his position, so we'll see if that reemerges in any way tonight. Additionally, remember how well Williams played when he took on Jeremy Lin at the height of Linsanity (38 points)? Well, Rondo's current assist streak isn't nearly on the level of Jeremy Lin's rise to fame, but it isn't difficult to imagine Williams wanting to be the guy that puts an end to Rondo's personal run, so let's see if he puts some extra effort in on the defensive end tonight.
Forsberg: Two things interest me: (1) How do the Celtics respond after Friday's head-shaker. This trip just got a lot more difficult because the starters -- for whatever reason -- couldn't get it going in the middle frames Friday night against the Raptors. The first unit needs to atone by not only starting the game off strong, but more importantly not enduring the lulls that plagued the team in Toronto. (2) Remember how much of a hard time the Nets had with the Celtics' pressure last time out in Boston? That was the first time we had really seen the Rondo-Avery Bradley backcourt flourish while applying full-court pressure. Let's see if the Celtics ramp back up the intensity and make it a long night for Williams and the New Jersey ball-handlers.
2. Rondo's double-digit assist streak hit 20 games last night (and got its biggest scare in the process). Can he maintain it through the end of the regular season?
Payne: Yes, mainly because he's found a way to do it in virtually every type of game this season. He's done it in games that are nationally televised against opponents like the Miami Heat, and he's done it in game's like last night's -- low energy, low stakes games against the Raptors. What's more important is that the Celtics' resurgence during the second half of the season has coincided with Rondo's assist numbers, so it's not like he's hindering the team in any way by racking up the helpers. As long as Rondo remains cognizant of moving the ball and finding his teammates early in games, there's really no reason this streak has to end.
Forsberg: The only thing that might detour this streak is if Boston actually builds a 20-point halftime lead in one of these games and gives the starters some rest. Now, not even that might prevent it as Rondo has been particularly assist-happy at the start of games (he had seven first-quarter helpers last night, then just five more the rest of the night, not getting No. 10 until there was little more than two minutes to go). It's clear that no opponent -- or defensive scheme -- is likely to end this streak if Rondo remains engaged. But a lack of overall minutes might prevent him from climbing to 27 before the regular season ends. Regardless, we'll probably look back and marvel at this streak a lot more once the season is over. Just an incredible run here by Rondo, though it is fair to wonder if he needs to find a comfortable balance between scoring and distributing as you never want the streak to become more important than giving the team what it needs most.