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Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics welcome the Indiana Pacers Friday night.Riding a four-game winning streak, the Boston Celtics (4-3, 3-0 home) welcome the Indiana Pacers (4-2, 2-2 away) to TD Garden Friday night (7:30 p.m., CSN). We go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brendan Jackson to preview the tilt:
1. Fact or fiction. The Pacers will finish ahead of the Celtics in the East.
Payne: Fiction. The Pacers will finish higher in the East than they have in recent seasons, but the C's are finally starting to get their collective act together, and I firmly expect them to leapfrog a host of teams currently sitting higher in the standings -- Indiana included.
Jackson: Fiction. The Pacers were the sexy preseason team in the East given the addition of David West and the expected growth of guys like Darren Collison and Paul George. The truth is that the Pacers are much like the Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trailblazers, and Denver Nuggets. They have a great collection of role players and some All-Stars but no bona fide superstar (we can talk about LaMarcus Aldridge another time). There is no one the Pacers can definitively point to in crunch time to make the right decision. Danny Granger will take the last shot for you, he just might be quadrupled teamed and the shot will most likely be a long 3.
Forsberg: Fiction. The way some make it sound this is some sort of slam dunk fact. Check out Indiana's schedule so far. Barely getting by Toronto? Overtime win over Cleveland? Losing to Detroit? I think the Pacers will indeed be a middle seed in the East this season and even Doc Rivers said there was a chance the Celtics could see them in the postseason (a 4-5 matchup?) But I agree with you guys. Nothing suggests to me that the Pacers are ready to leapfrog Boston ... not yet anyway.
2. How much did missing out on David West hurt Boston this season?
Payne: It hurts, mainly because it's always beneficial to scoop up a proven, productive big man in the NBA. At the same time, though, with Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass already in the mix, there might have been a logjam at the power forward position. The Celtics, though, probably would have seen that as a problem worth having. But so far Bass has exceeded expectations, and his consistent play has helped to cushion the blow, and should continue to do so. The other positive: Greg Stiemsma's gotten the chance to show that he can play and contribute.
Jackson: Missing out on David West hurt the psyche of Celtics' fans the most. I cannot remember the last time the Celtics-related Twitterverse exploded, collected itself, and then exploded again. Fan reaction aside, the overall impact of the failed acquisition has been minimized by the emergence of Brandon Bass as a reliable and efficient bench scorer from the four position. Bass has outplayed West in almost every statistical category this season and while West is ultimately more talented, you just don't know what you'll get from a guy coming off a bad knee injury. Furthermore, the pleasant surprise Bass has been may not have developed had West been eating up those minutes trying to get his legs under him.
Forsberg: The loss of West on the court? Marginally hurts. As you guys alluded to, the Celtics had a logjam at the power forward spot already and all West would have done was make it even harder for JaJuan Johnson to get on the floor (and force Doc Rivers to get creative at the 5 spot). The bigger detriment in losing West was the realization that veteran free agents no longer see this as a guaranteed chance to win an NBA title. And that's a bit jarring. Boston was used to losing those free agents to South Beach or Hollywood in recent seasons. Indiana!? That stings.
3. What's one thing you want to see from the Celtics Friday night?
Payne: A wire-to-wire beatdown of the Pacers. I'm not big on "statement" wins, but I am big on quality wins that a team can hang its hat on. Boston is rested, should be motivated by the quality opponent entering its building tonight (even Rajon Rondo, who'll have a worthy adversary in Darren Collison), and Boston has the promise of four whole days before its next game. Tonight's the night for the Celtics to put together that complete win and excel on both sides of the ball.
Jackson: Energy. The Celtics have effectively had 1½ days to rest and prepare for tonight's game after sleepwalking through the first half of the New Jersey Nets thrashing. My hope is that this has provided them the necessary energy to get up for a midseason game against a good, young playoff team. I also want to see Avery Bradley followup his best game as a professional with another solid game. Tonight's matchup will be a true test of his NBA mettle considering Darren Collison, George Hill, and even A.J. Price will be prove to be tougher adversaries than Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines. If he doesn't step up, then it's time for more Moore!
Forsberg: Just a win. It's that simple. Fans get frustrated when the Celtics let a Nets team without their three top stars hang around for three quarters, but this one doesn't necessarily need style points. Just beat a quality team at home and that'll be enough to wash away most lingering concerns about the fact that Boston's four-game winning streak has been against three of the weakest teams in the league. Beggars can't be choosers, but limiting West (hey, they didn't need you!) and starting strong (or just playing a full 48 minutes overall) would be two wins-within-the-win.