Game Preview: Timberwolves at Celtics
BOSTON – Two teams that have yet to meet their own expectations will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden. The Boston Celtics (9-8) and Minnesota Timberwolves (8-8) have both been hovering around the .500 mark all season long and are currently aiming to reel off a winning streak.
Minnesota is in the midst of a mini streak already. It has won its past two games to notch consecutive wins for the first time since Nov. 7-9. The Celtics, meanwhile, are coming off of a tough loss to the Bucks Saturday night in Milwaukee.
Boston’s loss arrived during the absence of Rajon Rondo, who will return to the lineup tonight. He was suspended by the NBA for two games as a result of his altercation with Nets forward Kris Humphries on Nov. 28.
Rondo on Tuesday spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension was handed down. He shied away from speaking about himself and instead concentrated on his hopes for his team in the near future.
“I want to get better. I want to run off about eight or nine games straight,” Rondo said. “It starts in practice and it starts with staying in the game. I just want to go out there and give it all for my teammates and try to get some wins. We’ve got to get this show on the road.”
While the C’s look to ignite their season, the Timberwolves must feel as if their show is just beginning.
Minnesota played its first 10 games of the season without its best player, Kevin Love. Love had been sidelined with a broken right hand and returned to the lineup on Nov. 21. The team has gone just 3-4 since his return but has won three of its last four games.
In other uplifting news, playmaking point guard Ricky Rubio returned to practice this week for the first time since his surgery on March 9 to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. He is not expected to play in the immediate future, but his return to game action is on the horizon.
The Celtics and Timberwolves both understand that their talent far outweighs their record at this point in the season. They also both understand that they could take off on a winning streak at any moment. Boston’s goal tonight will be to cut the cord on Minnesota’s mini streak while starting one of its own.
More Than a Minny Advantage
While speaking to the media on Tuesday, Doc Rivers didn’t shy away from the fact that this Timberwolves team has some serious advantages over the Celtics.
“They’re challenging because their strength is our weakness,” Rivers said. “They aren’t a good rebounding team, they’re an amazing rebounding team. Kevin Love is one of the best rebounders of our era.
“And then they have the other big (Nikola Pekovic) who’s 7-feet tall and a monster. And (Andrei) Kirilenko, who’s not going to be here, but if he is then they have another one.”
Kirilenko will not play tonight due to back spasms, but the Wolves will still have Love and Pekovic down low. Both of those players are fantastic around the basket at both ends of the court, which doesn’t bode well for a Celtics team that struggles on the glass.
No More Streak
Rondo’s impressive streak of 37 consecutive games with at least 10 assists ended when he was ejected from the Nets game on Nov. 28. That may not be good for Rondo’s personal achievements, but it could be great for the C’s.
There is no avoiding the fact that Rondo, at times, passed on easy buckets in order to increase his assist total during the streak. On many of those occasions, the Celtics wound up with a more difficult shot than the one Rondo could have taken himself.
With the streak now in the rearview mirror, Rondo can return to being an aggressive scorer. He’ll be defended all night long by slower or smaller guards, so it wouldn’t be a shocker if he scores around 20 points tonight.
Get Pierce on Track
The Celtics aren’t going anywhere this season without Paul Pierce. He is this team’s go-to scorer, leading the C's with 19.2 points per game. The Captain, however, has been struggling of late.
Pierce has made less than 43 percent of his shots in each of his past three games. He hasn’t broken the 20-point barrier since Nov. 25. Pierce has also committed an average of 4.3 turnovers a night over Boston’s past three contests.
That’s not the Pierce that Boston needs. The Celtics him to catch fire if the team wants to do so as well. With Rondo back on the court, the probability of that happening becomes much higher.