Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Pierce drives last season against the Kings.The Boston Celtics (14-15, 5-10 away) close out a four-game road trip -- and their 2012 calendar year -- by visiting the Sacramento Kings (10-19, 9-7 home) on Sunday night at Sleep Train Arena (9 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:
* A MUST-WIN GAME?: The idea that a random Sunday night in December against a non-conference team could be termed a must-win game seems a bit silly, but the Celtics really need this one to salvage a road trip that's gone downhill fast. Let's face it, the Kings are a bit of a struggling circus and -- regardless of whether Rajon Rondo (hip/thigh) is able to dress or not -- Boston could really use a victory here. Even after consecutive thumpings at the hands of the Clippers and Warriors, Boston can almost justify a 2-2 trip and closing out the New Year at .500 (while hoping the 2013 portion of the schedule isn't riddled with such inconsistency).
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: Offensively, the Kings rank 19th in the league averaging 0.901 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Sacramento is actually a top 10 spot-up shooting team (1.009 ppp) and that makes them dangerous one night after Golden State scorched Boston with jumpers. For all of his talents, DeMarcus Cousins isn't a particularly efficient scorer, averaging a mere 0.83 points per play, which ranks in the 32nd percentile among all players. Boston has to limit the damage done by shooters like Marcus Thornton (0.986 ppp, 81st percentile) and even Jimmer Fredette (1.068 ppp, 94th percentile). Defensively, the Kings reside near the bottom of the league, ranking 27th at 0.949 points per play. They are the NBA's worst again pick-and-roll ball-handlers, but if Rondo can't go, the Celtics' ability to exploit there is diminished.
* SOMEONE'S GOTTA STEP UP: Regardless of whether Rondo's on the floor, the Celtics need someone outside of their Big Three to step up. With the team staggering, someone like Jason Terry, Jeff Green, or Courtney Lee needs to put this team on their shoulders for a night and provide a bit more than the inconsistent norm. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett both had terrible games against Golden State and should be motivated to bounce back, but Boston's supporting cast needs to lend a bigger hand in these type of situations, particularly playing the second night of a back-to-back. The Celtics are 4-4 on the second night of back-to-backs this season, but 2-4 on the road in those situations.