Tonight, the Nets will take the train back up to Newark to face the Boston Celtics for the final time this season. Both teams have been playing well recently, with the Celtics 11-4 in their last 15 games and the Nets 6-3 in their last 9. Last night, the Nets went down to Philadelphia where they shocked a Sixers team in desperate need of a win. Meanwhile, the Celtics got shocked themselves when they went north of the border and lost to a Toronto Raptors team who had Ben Uzoh as their starting point guard. The Nets win was especially surprising because they were without their hustle leader in Gerald Wallace and the Celtics loss was so surprising because they were coming off a 4-game winning streak where they beat Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami, and Atlanta: all likely playoff teams. They obviously underprepared for Toronto, and I doubt a veteran team like that will not be prepared for two nights in a row.
The Celtics have already beaten the Nets twice this year, and will look to go for the season sweep in this game. However, in one of those games the Nets were without Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Kris Humphries, so I don’t think you can hold that against the Nets. All time, the Nets are just 56-111 against Boston, good for a 33% winning percentage. That is awful, but not surprising seeing that the Celtics have been one of the best teams in NBA history, while the Nets have been one of the worst. In recent years, however, the Nets have shocked the Celtics in some late season games. Last year, the Nets beat the Celtics at home in a meaningless-for-the-Nets late season game. This guy sure loved it. Even two seasons ago, when the Nets were 12-70, they beat the Celtics on the road in a late season game. Maybe they will be able to continue that tradition tonight.
Injuries will be a factor in this game. For Boston, Ray Allen will almost definitely miss this game with a sore right ankle. Avery Bradley should start in his place. Also, Jermaine O’Neal hasn’t played since February. He probably wouldn’t have effected the game anyway. For the Nets, we all know the situation. Aside from the normal injuries (Brook Lopez, Jordan Farmar, etc.), Gerald Wallace will miss this game and may not even return this season. I sure hope that doesn’t happen because that could turn into a Nets fan’s worst nightmare. If the Nets lose their pick to Portland and Wallace leaves in the offseason, they would have basically given their pick to Portland for 10 games from Wallace. What a disaster that would be.
Deron Williams vs. Rajon Rondo. Advantage: Push (and not in a bad way!)
Wow! An exciting matchup in a Nets game! This is a battle of top 5 point guards and should be very fun to watch. Rondo is extremely consistent, so hopefully Deron will be able to keep up. Rondo hasn’t had a game in which he has had less than 10 assists in over a month. That is extremely impressive. Deron is definitely less consistent, but he is treating this like a road game. I think he wants Boston fans to go so that it will feel like it’s in Boston. The more Boston fans there are, the better Deron will play.
Marshon Brooks vs. Avery Bradley. Advantage: Brooks
Avery Bradley is taking the place of the injured Ray Allen. He is not terrible and can score in double digits any given night. However, I really liked Marshon’s play last night and I have a feeling he will have a good game against the team that drafted him. Expect at least 15 from Marshon tonight. I just don’t want to see him run any more point guard for a while until he has time to actually practice it.
Deshawn Stevenson vs. Paul Pierce. Advantage: Pierce
This definitely doesn’t need any explanation. I still consider Pierce a star, averaging about 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game.
Kris Humphries vs. Brandon Bass. Advantage: Humphries
Brandon Bass is probably better than you think. He is averaging 12 ppg and 6 rpg and he can hit mid-range jumpers. However, if the Nets want to be competitive in this game, they need a big performance from The Hump. Expect your typical 15-10 Hump double-double game.
Shelden Williams vs. Kevin Garnett. Advantage: Garnett
This definitely doesn’t need explanation. In fact, the matchup I am more interested in will be how Jordan Williams handles Garnett both offensively and defensively. J-Will has shown he has some nice offensive moves, and it will be a good test for him facing the former MVP and defensive player of the year. Hopefully Shelden will have at least one basket. Garnett has been playing well of late with at least 10 points and 6 rebounds (and usually much more) in his last 9 games. Expect more production from him tonight.
My bold prediction is that Paul Pierce is going to score 30 tonight. This may not seem too bold, but he has only done that 5 times this season, so it is rare enough to be considered bold. However, I am picking the upset here. The Nets will win a close, emotional game, 99-96 in overtime. Boston will leave very disappointed after losing back-to-back games against the two worst teams in their division.