Game Details: TD Garden, Boston, MA. 4:30 PM. TV: NBA TV. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Brandon Roy (#7, 6′6″, Washington), SF Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)
Projected Boston Starting Lineup: PG Rajon Rondo (#9, 6’1″, Kentucky), SG Ray Allen (#20, 6’5″, Connecticut), SF Paul Pierce (#34, 6’7″, Kansas), PF Kevin Garnett (#5, 6’11”, Farragut Career Academy), C Shaquille O’Neal (#36, 7’1″, LSU)
Could the timing be any worse for the Blazers to play a team like the Celtics? It’s bad enough that they can’t close out games against mediocre-to-bad teams like the Nets and Sixers, but to follow up these embarrassing performances by going up against one of the toughest, deepest, and most cohesive teams in the league? Let’s just say expectations need to be tamped down for tonight.
Through the first five weeks of the season, there are no signs that the Celtics won’t repeat as Eastern Conference champions. If anything, they’re better than they were last year. In 2009-10, Boston mailed in a good chunk of the regular season to rest the bodies of their aging stars, doing enough to get the third seed in the playoffs before turning it on against the favored Cavs and Magic to get to the Finals, where they lost in seven games to the Lakers. This year, that doesn’t seem to be an issue. Rajon Rondo was impressive in the playoffs last spring, but even that couldn’t have prepared us for the level at which he’s been playing this year. There is no longer any denying that Rondo belongs on the very short list of best point guards in the NBA with Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He’s been dealing with a sore hamstring, but that didn’t stop him from scoring 23 points and dishing out 12 assists yesterday against Cleveland. Kevin Garnett’s knee seems to have returned to 2007-08 form, which could be dangerous for LaMarcus Aldridge. Nate Robinson, acquired at the trading deadline last year, has been a spark plug off the bench, filling the Rudy Fernandez role. Signing Shaquille O’Neal this offseason was a gamble, but so far it’s paid off–he’s been putting up solid numbers and can always be counted on to clog the inside. The rebounding advantage Marcus Camby usually provides won’t be quite as strong tonight.
For the Blazers, this season has turned ugly fast. Last night’s loss in Philadelphia pushed them to their first four-game losing streak since the 2007-08 season. Brandon Roy has played well since returning from the knee troubles that sidelined him for three games in November, but that’s about all the positive the Blazers can take away from the last week. The Nicolas Batum/Wesley Matthews situation is still in flux, but Matthews put up 26 points as the starting small forward last night, so it’s safe to assume Nate McMillan will stick with him for the time being. Joel Przybilla is still sidelined with stomach flu, leaving Camby as the only center on the Blazers’ active roster. Against a team like the Celtics, who not only have Shaq but also Jermaine O’Neal and physical power forwards Garnett and Glen Davis, the Blazers will be at a huge rebounding disadvantage. Camby and Aldridge have to be more aggressive than usual to even keep up.
This is as tough a game as the Blazers will play all season. The Celtics are arguably the best team in the NBA besides the Lakers, who already blew Portland out last month. At 13-4, Boston is tied with Orlando for the best record in the Eastern Conference, and they’re playing like true contenders. The Blazers are coming into this game with morale possibly at the lowest it’s been at any point in the Brandon Roy era. A win tonight would be huge, but even writing that is setting us up for disappointment at this point.