Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:30 PM. TV: TNT. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Joel Przybilla (#10, 7′1″, Minnesota)
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 Kendrick Perkins (#43, 6’10”, Clifton J. Ozen High School)
In the best of circumstances, with Portland’s entire team healthy, the Boston Celtics would be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, team in the league to beat. As we know all too well, that is not the case, but the Celtics have had their share of injuries this season too, some of which have a direct impact on the matchup tonight. According to CelticsBlog, Shaquille O’Neal, who had been starting at center for Boston and playing solid ball, will be out tonight with a hip injury. The timing of this injury could be a lot worse for Boston, as Kendrick Perkins returned to the team this week after missing the whole first half of the season recovering from the knee injury that took him out of game six of last year’s NBA Finals. Perkins showed some rust in his first game back earlier this week, but the Blazers are depleted enough inside that he could still have an impact.
Even if you discount both teams’ holes in the middle, this game is still a pretty big mismatch. LaMarcus Aldridge had an off night on Monday against Sacramento, which may be attributable to the sore hip that thankfully returned a negative x-ray this week. If Samuel Dalembert was able to more or less shut LaMarcus down, he has his work cut out for him tonight against one of the toughest power forwards in NBA history, Kevin Garnett. KG has been the Celtics’ anchor defensively this season, and the team struggled when he missed a couple of weeks this month. Now that he’s had a few practices with the team under his belt, don’t be surprised if Chris Johnson gets his first NBA minutes tonight, and you can’t get much more trial-by-fire than this.
The rest of the Celtics team shouldn’t need much of an introduction. Portland mounted a valiant comeback effort against Boston in December but were ultimately done in by their decision to leave Ray Allen open late in the fourth quarter. Nobody should need to be told that’s something you don’t want to do. Rajon Rondo is one of the toughest point-guard matchups in the league, on both ends of the floor. Paul Pierce is always dangerous. The Celtics’ bench is thin tonight, but you’d still rather have Nate Robinson, Glen Davis, and Marquis Daniels in this matchup than Rudy Fernandez, Patty Mills, and Dante Cunningham.
The Blazers have a relatively tough stretch coming up, starting with this game and continuing with a back-to-back next week against the Spurs and Nuggets. With the exception of Monday’s game, Portland has done a good job of handling bad teams, but this stretch will be the first time we get to see how they fare against title contenders. Even one win in these next three games would be huge for the Blazers, and with the Celtics’ injury situation being what it is, tonight might be their best chance to get it.