The Boston Celtics are currently 4-4 after an 87-74 loss to the Indiana Pacers last Friday. Doc Rivers recently was quoted saying, “We are who we are. We want to be good and we hope we are going to be good, but right now we are who we are.” The C’s looked old and slow versus the Pacers. They struggled to score and when Rajon Rondo was out of the game, they lacked the energy and drive to win the game. Luckily for the Celtics they have been off since the Pacers game and will be rested going into Wednesday night's game versus the Mavs. Getting on the court for practice and a break in the game schedule will be a recipe for helping the C’s get back on the winning track.
The Mavs stopped into the White House on Monday morning to celebrate their NBA Championship with President Barack Obama before playing the next six out of eight games on the road. The Mavs are currently 4-5 after beating the New Orleans Hornets Saturday night. The Mavs have won four of their last six games after losing their first three. They have played up and down, getting blown out in several games. Rick Carlisle feels that depth and energy will be two of the most important factors of success this season and that he will keep shuffling his lineups until he finds the correct combinations on the court. The Mavs acknowledge that they are an older team and their goal is to get into the playoffs and be rested when they get there. If they can do that they feel they have the talent and experience to repeat as champions.
Keys for Boston:
Rest and energy: The Celtics have not played since last Friday night. That will be four consecutive nights without playing a game. In addition the Celtics will have gone since Jan. 1 and 2 without a back to back game. They will be playing the Mavericks who will be coming in from playing the Detroit Pistons the night before. Rest and energy should be the underlying theme to this game. The Celtics will be the rested team, they must utilize their days off and get off to a good start to this game. In a compressed 66 game schedule they are not going to get many opportunities like this again. They must take advantage of it versus the Mavs.
Improve Defensively: The Celtics do not look like the Celtics of years past. Since the arrival of Kevin Garnett this team has been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. They look like a shell of themselves defensively. They look like they have lost their defensive identity. It started with the loss of Kendrick Perkins at mid-season last year and has progressively gotten worse since. The Celtics were a team built on protecting the paint, not letting the ball be penetrated to the rim, taking away opponents airspace and making their opponents take as many tough, challenged two point shots as possible. This year their opponents have already gotten too many easy looks via pick and rolls, dribble penetration, free throws and offensive rebounds. The Celtics must be exact against a team as offensively talented as the Mavericks. Although the Mavs are struggling to find their offensive rhythm everyone knows how talented Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Lamar Odom, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are. The Celtics must be exact in their pick and roll schemes versus the Mavs and sharp in their rotations. They must not let the ball get into the paint as easy as it has in previous games because it opens up too many opportunities for open threes and offensive rebounds. Look for the Celtics to play Garnett big minutes at the center position, especially if the Mavs go small without a true center.
Fast Break Differential: Look for the Celtics to defend, rebound and push the ball. The Mavs are currently 25th in the league in points on the break. They are giving up 15.4 fast break points per game to their opponents. The Celtics conversely are 4th in the NBA giving up only 9.9 fast break points per game. Rondo is a terror on the break because he continuously pushes the ball and if he sees a little opening he is persistent at taking the ball to the paint. It is important that Rondo push the ball, especially on makes and get open shots for himself, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The winner of break points may be the winner of the game.
Rebound the ball: The Celtics have lost their rebounding edge. With the loss of Perkins, and their defensive decline recently the Celtics are not winning the battle on the glass. They are getting beaten on the glass for two reasons. The first reason is the Celtics are getting beaten off the dribble on the perimeter. When they get beat their big men are having to help way too much. When the C’s big men help on the perimeter drives to the paint, they must leave their men to do so. When this happens and the shot goes up on the glass the opponents big men have way too much of an advantage and are utilizing it to hurt the Celtics on the glass. The C’s need a much better effort in their one-on-one defense. If they are constantly getting beat off the dribble by the Mavs and are always in help they will get beat by the 3-point shot and offensive rebounds. The second reason is that their team is getting outworked and outhustled on the glass. Their effort, and energy level is not good enough and they are losing the 50-50 balls. There were too many times in last Friday's game where they had inside position on a rebound but did not get the ball because the Pacers were more physical and outworked the C’s. Their physical conditioning must improve so that they can be more physical versus the Mavericks and continue that throughout the 48 minute contest. Last Friday night in Boston the Pacers grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and had a 19-5 advantage in second chance points. The Pacers only shot 40.5% from the field yet beat the C’s by 13 points. The glass was the biggest culprit, because Boston allowed Roy Hibbert, David West, and Jeff Foster to hurt them off the glass. The Celtics cannot allow Brendan Haywood (2.8) offensive rebounds per game, Ian Mahinmi (1.8), Shawn Marion (1.7) or Lamar Odom to outwork them on the glass in Wednesdays game.
Keys for Dallas:
Step up for Kidd: The Mavs will be without Jason Kidd in Wednesday’s game. He hurt himself last week in the San Antonio game and did not play Saturday night against New Orleans. The Mavs utilized Delonte West in Kidd’s place versus the Hornets.
The Mavs are struggling offensively right now and without Kidd on Saturday had another ragged offensive performance. Kidd is the anchor for this team. They will need for West and whoever mans the point guard position to step in for him and bring a steadying influence to the Mavs. The other problem for any of the Mavs point guards will be defending Rondo. He is the best player on the Celtics roster right now. He is currently averaging 14. ppg, dishing out 10.5 apg and grabbing 5.9 rpg. The Mavs have their hands full with Rondo even at full strength. If they cannot control Rondo and he dominates whoever Rick Carlisle puts on him they will struggle to win this game on the road.
Offense work in progress: What separated the Mavericks from the rest of the NBA and made them so much fun to watch during their run to a NBA Championship was their offensive flow. They had tremendous ball movement and shared the ball. They utilized an equal opportunity system where the open man got the ball and they did this with tremendous execution, unselfish play and high level shooting. Rick Carlisle instituted an offense last year they called their “flow game”. Their “flow game” was an extension of their fast break where they flowed into their offense without calling set plays. Carlisle gave his team some basic things he wanted them to do then allowed them to find good shots via great movement of the ball, movement of their players and great execution. The Mavs were the best team in the NBA Playoffs at making the hockey assist and the extra pass. The hockey assist is the assist that leads to the assist. Some NBA players refuse to move the ball and love to pound it with the dribble. The Mavs moved the ball with precision and not made the assist but also the hockey assist. Unfortunately the Mavs are not anywhere near that type of offensive production right now. They are shooting the ball poorly from the field including Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is (5-22) in his last two games and only shooting (4-20) 20% from the 3 point line. The Mavs are in the middle of an adjustment period from last year’s roster. Gone are JJ Barea’s 9.5 ppg, Tyson Chandler’s 10 ppg, DeShawn Stevenson's 5.0. They must adjust to having Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, and Delonte West on their roster and continue to grow with them offensively. There is no doubt that this team can and will score points. There is no doubt that they will find their offensive rhythm. Hopefully they can begin to find it versus the Pistons on Tuesday night and carry that over to Wednesdays game versus the Celtics.
Defense a priority: Defense must continue to be a priority for the Mavs as they continue to grow their offense. The Mavs came a long way as a defensive team last year, it was one of the main reasons that they won a NBA title. Dwane Casey was the defensive coordinator and he helped to build a defensive system of man and zone defense that allowed the Mavs to succeed. Casey has moved onto to be the head coach of the Toronto Raptors and without him the Mavs started the season with horrible defensive performances.
Besides the loss of Casey, another of the big reasons for their lack of defensive toughness has been the loss of Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson. Chandler was the glue of their defense. He played with high energy and was the communicator of their back line. He protected the paint and did not allow opponents to get anything easy at the rim. Stevenson was their number one perimeter defender who was always ready to take on the challenge of guarding the other teams best offensive player. The Mavs were terrible in their first three games but have improved since and have not given up 100 points since then. They must have an excellent defensive effort versus the Celtics in several areas. They must have great defensive balance and get back in transition versus the attacking Rajon Rondo. The Mavs must locate Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in transition and not give up the open three ball. In addition they must find someone on their roster who can defend Paul Pierce. With the loss of Stevenson the Mavs have Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, and Lamar Odom who can defend Pierce. He is the Celtics go to scorer and the Mavs must have an answer for him, especially in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.