AP Photo/Kathy Willens
It's an Atlantic Division clash as the Celtics meet the Knicks.After opening their exhibition slate with two games overseas, the Boston Celtics get their first taste of NBA competition Saturday when they host the New York Knicks at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Here's a handful of areas we'll have our eyes on in this matchup:
* EYES ON THE FIRST FIVE: Lineup possibilities was the dominant storyline around the Celtics this week and Doc Rivers promised to be a mad scientist, mixing and matching his versatile personnel during the preseason in hopes of determining the combinations he'll lean on when the games really matter. After Jason Terry and Jared Sullinger spent much of the week running with the first unit, it will be interesting to see if they get a second straight start alongside Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. What does Terry -- one of the league's top sixth men in Dallas -- add to the Boston first unit? "It makes us that [much] more versatile," said Garnett. "You have another shooter on the floor, another scorer, another veteran that knows how to play the game. Another ball handler for Rondo, take Rondo off the ball. Doc has a lot of options in which he's been playing with them a lot in practice. He did a lot of things overseas with different matchups and stuff -- Jeff Green in the lineup. The lineups that he's playing with remind me a lot of the '07-'08 year when we had four smalls and one big, and we had shooters and different dynamics to score the ball. So, you'll have to talk to him, but the saga continues with all of that."
* PACE OF PLAY: A primary point of emphasis for Rivers this preseason has been pace of play. The Celtics ranked 21st in pace last season, averaging 90.4 possessions per 48 minutes. Plagued at times by turnovers and rebounding woes, Rivers believes increased pace will aid Boston's inconsistent offense (26th in points per game last season). "For us, offensive pace is something we've really focused on these last three days," said Rivers. "Taking care of the ball. We've been doing a lot of turnover drills, which players don't like, but there's a certain amount of turnovers and there's running involved. So, offensively, those are the two things. And defensively, just working on getting everybody on the same page."
* BACK TO NBA PLAY: Games in Istanbul and Milan featured unknown opponents and mixed FIBA/NBA rules. The Celtics will face a more familiar opponent this time out, one that figures to push the Celtics in a revamped Atlantic Division this season. Rookie Sullinger, who had success on the glass overseas, knows things will be more challenging against New York and he'll be tested more around the hoop. "Obviously, the Euro style is, [power forward is] more of a shooter, so going against the Knicks, you've got a couple bangers down low. So, it's just going to be a totally different game." The Sullinger hype machine has been spinning wildly this week and this will be a good test to see if he can keep it going.
* RETURN OF RASHEED?: Amare Stoudemire might sit out his second straight preseason game, but the more intriguing big-man status -- at least for Celtics fans -- might be whether old friend Rasheed Wallace sees his first game action since coming out of retirement to join the Knicks. Said Garnett: "I heard he didn't make the trip to Washington [for Thursday's preseason game], so I hope everything's good with him in New York. I haven't spoken to him. He usually has all the time in the world to text me and get on my [expletive] nerves, now I get to get on his [backside] about getting in shape and all this other stuff that I've been reading. But, it'll be good to see him back on the floor." Asked if two years away from the game might have calmed Wallace, Rivers quipped, "No, he's going to be Rasheed. I've got a feeling the Knicks will have a spike in technicals this year."
* BACKUP BALL HANDLER: Rivers expressed concern about the team's lack of a pure second-unit ball handler when Rondo is off the floor. If Terry runs with the first unit, that leaves the reserves leaning on the likes of Courtney Lee to facilitate the offense, when Rivers would prefer his shooting guards (Avery Bradley, too, when he's healthy enough later in the season) stay off the ball. Can a younger player (Jamar Smith? Dionte Christmas?) emerge as a viable backup ball handler, or will the Celtics find a way to initiate offense without needing a pure distributor? It might be the only glaring area of depth concern for the Celtics at the moment.