US Airways Center, Phoenix, 10:30 p.m. | ESPN, WEEI (850 AM)
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash are the top two assist leaders in the NBA. It's only Rondo and the Boston Celtics, though, who are among the top teams in the league. Nash and the Phoenix Suns aren't close.
Rondo looks to help the Celtics win consecutive road games for the first time in over a month when they face the struggling Suns in the continuation of this West Coast trip Friday night. Rondo leads the league with 12.7 assists per game, while Nash is second with 11.0 after finishing atop the NBA with the same average last season.
Nash, though, also leads the Suns (20-24) with a qualifying average of 17.3 points compared to Rondo's 10.6. However, Rondo's contributions are a big reason why the Celtics (35-10) lead the Eastern Conference by four games over Chicago and Miami. Phoenix is 11th in the West, 3 1/2 games back of Portland for the final playoff position.
The Celtics dropped both meetings to the Suns last season, losing 116-98 at Phoenix on Dec. 30, 2009, while Paul Pierce was sidelined with a knee injury. Pierce, Boston's leader with 19.0 points per game, is averaging 25.3 over his last 10 games at US Airways Center, but it's unclear if he'll play Friday. The swingman claims he's been bothered by a sore ankle hurt during Tuesday's win over Cleveland, and said he suffered a sore knee against the Blazers.
"We'll check it out and see how it feels," he said. "Hopefully by then it won't be too bad."
The Suns are trying to avoid matching their season-high four-game slide from last month. They lost their third in a row Wednesday, failing to score in the final 3:02 to fall 114-107 to Charlotte in the opener of this five-game homestand.
"We have to do better at finishing games," coach Alvin Gentry said. "The bottom line is that there was 1:17 to go and we never got possession of the ball on three missed shots."
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FORSBERG'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
What's in the tank?: The Celtics are coming off an ultra-physical battle with the Blazers Thursday night. Captain Paul Pierce will see if his bruised leg responds well enough to play, while teammate Shaquille O'Neal could return to action after sitting out the last three games with a sore right hip. Even with Sunday's showdown against the Lakers looming, Boston can't get caught looking past a Suns team that's struggling, but not exactly downshifting their pace of play because of it.
Suns' alphabet: A,B,C, E: ... Because Phoenix doesn't play much D. In fact, the Suns are second only to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, allowing 107.9 points per game this season. That's a whopping 16.4 points per game more than Boston allows (91.5, 2nd in the NBA). Opponents are shooting 48 percent against the Suns (second worst in the NBA, behind only Toronto at 48.3 percent).
Pad those rebounding numbers: While the Suns are second only to Boston in field goal percentage (47.3), the frenetic pace means there's a lot of rebound opportunities for opponents and Phoenix gives up an average of 44 caroms per game. The Celtics must capitalize, particularly against a team that isn't great on the glass either (Phoenix ranks second to last in the NBA in total rebounds, ahead of only the Celtics).