at TD Garden, 7:30 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Avoid the letdown: With the first day of the All-Star break looming, will the minds of the injury-ridden Celtics be on the Nets, or on what they plan on doing with their free time? Boston has had difficulty at times this season bringing the right amount of focus against sub-.500 teams, but those struggles have primarily come on the road in back-to-back situations. The Celtics are a sterling 24-5 at home so far this season, and only one of those losses has come against a team with a losing record. What's more, Boston currently boasts a 9-1 record against Atlantic Division foes.
Opposites don't attract: Wednesday's game will see a matchup of one of the league's best defensive teams in the Celtics, and one of the NBA's worst offensive teams in the Nets. New Jersey currently ranks 28th in the league in offensive efficiency (99.8 points per 100 possessions) and field goal percentage (43.9 percent). Meanwhile the Celtics rank second overall in defensive efficiency (97.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) and third in the league in field goal percentage defense (opponents are shooting just 43.7 percent against Boston this season).
Keep up the momentum: After practice on Tuesday, Kevin Garnett acknowledged that Wednesday's game holds significant weight because a win would serve as "momentum" heading into the second half of the season. The Celtics undoubtedly want to enter the All-Star break with some positive mojo, particularly with another four-game Western Conference road trip looming on the other side.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
With Paul Pierce deemed fit to play, the New Jersey Nets (17-39) likely saw their best chance for a win disappear. The Celtics have taken 14 of 15 meetings with New Jersey since March 3, 2007. The lone loss, a 104-96 home defeat last Feb. 27, occurred with Pierce sidelined due to a sore right thumb.
In a rare scheduling quirk, New Jersey is playing the second of three straight games versus conference leaders, stretched over 12 days. The Nets lost 102-85 at home to NBA-best San Antonio on Monday. Following this contest and the All-Star break, they won't take the floor again until visiting the Spurs on Feb. 25.
The Nets have dropped two straight, both at home. Following a 105-95 loss to New York on Saturday, they never seriously challenged San Antonio. Brook Lopez and Travis Outlaw tied for the team lead with 11 points apiece.
Rookie forward Damion James, who has missed 33 games due to a broken right foot, participated fully in practice Tuesday and has a chance to return for the Nets on Wednesday.
"Whatever decision coach makes, I'm going to be satisfied with either one," James, averaging 3.1 points in 17 games, told the Nets' official website. "The Lord knows I want to be out there playing, but at the same time, coach doesn't want to put me out there playing if I ain't ready. But I think we've got a good feeling I'm ready."
Read the full preview HERE.