Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
Paul Pierce and the Celtics host the Suns to start a five-game homestand.The Boston Celtics (17-17, 10-6 home) host the Phoenix Suns (12-24, 2-15 away) on Wednesday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:
* HOME IS WHERE THE CHARGE IS: Already riding a season-high three-game winning streak, the Celtics open a five-game homestand on Wednesday night against the Suns. What's more, five of Boston's next seven games overall are against non-playoff teams. There's a real chance here for the C's to make their first sustained charge of the season, maybe putting some more makeup on a record that's back at .500 given the recent surge. Boston does have to be careful: After defeating three Eastern Conference playoff foes in a row, the Celtics could easily take their foot off the gas against a struggling Suns team with only two road wins this season. Boston hasn't afforded itself the ability to enjoy an easy night after all the inconsistent play through the first third of the season.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: It might not be surprising given their record, but the Suns are among the basement dwellers defensively. Phoenix ranks 26th overall, allowing 0.948 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. The Suns actually limit transition damage, but struggle in halfcourt sets (27th overall, 0.924 ppp). The trouble? Only one of their top 10 rotation players ranks above the 51st percentile among league defenders (Shannon Brown, 61st percentile). Opponents are eating up everyone in orange, but especially Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris, and Michael Beasley. Offensively, Phoenix ranks 18th at 0.907 points per play. Gortat (0.984 ppp, 81st percentile) and Jared Dudley (1.068 ppp, 94th percentile) are among the most efficient scorers on the team, but 21.3 percent of the team's offense comes via spot-up shooting and the Suns have been merely average (ranking 19th in the league).
* O'NEAL BACK IN BOSTON: Fresh off two disastrous seasons in Boston, Jermaine O'Neal returns to the Garden on Wednesday night with the Suns. The 34-year-old center, now in his 17th season, is averaging 6.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks over 16.2 minutes per game in 28 appearances. O'Neal has been surprisingly serviceable for a bad team and all at the veteran-minimum price tag. The Celtics probably wish they could have gotten similar contributions from a player that earned $12 million while appearing in a total of 58 games before being unceremoniously waived in April of another injury-detoured season.
* RONDO'S BACK, TOO: One reason the Celtics might avoid a letdown on Wednesday is that Rajon Rondo is back on the floor after serving a one-game suspension for bumping an official (his fourth suspension in 12 months). As Rondo noted on Tuesday: "The best thing is we got the win. They've played a lot of games without me, different situations. Some similar, some health, but they found a way to get the win... so we'll try to build on that."