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Paul Pierce hopes to play versus the Bobcats despite stubbing his toe in New Jersey.The Boston Celtics (35-25, 14-16 away) reach the finish line of their lone back-to-back-to-back sprint of the season on Sunday night with a visit to the Charlotte Bobcats (7-51, 4-23 home) at Time Warner Cable Arena (6 p.m., CSN). While the Celtics clinched a playoff berth Saturday night, the Bobcats need at least one more victory to avoid finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. To preview the matchup, we play a a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What will you be looking for when the Celtics visit the Bobcats?
Payne: I'm actually really curious to see what Doc Rivers does with his rotations tonight. Is he going to hold guys out entirely, given it being the final night of the back-to-back-to-back? Will he place some sort of minute restriction on some of his older veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett? It's difficult to get a read on the situation, because so far this weekend, Rivers hasn't really hinted at any one particular strategy. While I thought we surely were not going to see Pierce and Garnett tonight a few days ago, it honestly wouldn't shock me at all if they were both in the starting lineup against the Bobcats tonight. At the same time, given that they are the Bobcats and the C's locked up a postseason birth on Saturday night, and that there are a slew of more difficult opponents on tap next week, I can totally see Rivers choosing rest over rhythm tonight.
Forsberg: It's all about rest with this one. While Boston starters played fairly reasonable minutes Saturday night, it's hard to imagine Rivers won't try to make this an easy night for them. With a comfortable 3½-game cushion atop the Atlantic Division and a likely insurmountable 3-game deficit in trying to catch the Indiana Pacers for the No. 3 seed, there seems little reason to push hard for this one -- particularly given that the Celtics can likely contend without the varsity lineup. It was fun watching the rookies like JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore get some late-game burn against the Nets, why not give them a full half (or more?) to play and let the veterans rest up with a potential Atlantic-clinching battle with the New York Knicks looming Tuesday.
2. Has Brandon Bass quietly exceeded all expectations?
Payne: I definitely think Brandon Bass has quietly exceeded all expectations. He's been the model of consistency all season, and when that happens it's actually easy to lose sight of a player's production because you begin to take it for granted. But make no mistake, he is, without question, an integral part of what the Celtics are doing and they would not be in the midst of this mini-resurgence without him. I also think the consistency of his personality has done wonders. He's not the loose screw that Glen Davis often was, and while there were never any major rifts between him and his teammates or coaches, it often felt like there was some underlying tension between Davis and other personnel from time-to-time. Bass' ability to just show up and do his job over and over and over again has been one of the undeniable keys to the Celtics success this season.
Forsberg: Absolutely. That's not to say we didn't expect big things from Bass, but he's been even better than we probably had imagined at both ends of the floor. Offensively, we knew Bass was lethal with that mid-range jumper, but his ability to finish around the rim has been better than advertised, particularly given the fact that he's undersized (but his leaping ability masks that). It's on the defensive side that he's really shined. Davis' defense was vastly underrated and it was hard to imagine Bass could fill those shoes, but, according to Synergy Sports data, he's allowing a mere 0.65 points per play, ranking in the 96th percentile among all NBA players. He's slowly integrated into the help defense system and gotten better with his rotations. Now his rebounding is improving and he's turning into a double-double machine. All of which is to say he's been an absolute steal at his $4.25 million price tag, maybe one of the best values in the league at that rate.