- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kevin Garnett and the Celtics play the Raptors (again) Wednesday night at TD Garden.Two weeks since their last meeting (and fourth of this shortened season if you count a pair of preseason dances), the Boston Celtics (10-10, 6-6 home) host the Toronto Raptors (7-15, 5-9 away) Wednesday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). To preview the (familiar) matchup, we got 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb:
1. Will the Celtics' late-game stumble Tuesday night in Cleveland hurt its cause Wednesday against Toronto?
Payne: No. On the contrary, the Celtics should be encouraged by their ability to fend off a charging opponent, even if it was the Cleveland Cavaliers. They made up for Sunday night's debacle, and were able to generate more momentum last night, which they should carry over when they square off against the Raptors. I see these last two games (Sunday's loss included) as a different kind of progress for Boston. The C's are finally at the point (arguably for the first time this season) where they should really beat up on these inferior teams and they seem to understand that, so I expect them to win comfortably tonight.
Robb: No. If anything, I expect it to be a helpful motivating factor. The Celtics had the right to start feeling good (probably a little too good) about themselves after rolling off four straight quality wins last week while undermanned. After collapsing on Sunday night though, they responded for three quarters again last night before letting down their guard late. I expect another strong effort Wednesday night in response to this. Toronto is coming off a back-to-back as well, so tired legs will be an issue for both squads, leaving the C's with no excuse.
Forsberg: The need to trot out the starters for extended minutes to simply save Tuesday's win certainly doesn't help matters, but I'm not sure it will hurt Boston that much, either. The Celtics have been solid on the second night of back-to-backs in Boston, winning all three of the games played in that situation (what's more, all three came in situations where the first game was on the road). If this was a top-tier opponent, the concern might be greater. But let's face it, it's the Raptors and the Celtics shouldn't need the freshest of legs to race away on Wednesday.
2. True or false: The Celtics will be a more consistent team when healthy (you know, assuming this team will one day be completely healthy)?
Payne: True, mainly because everyone finally seems to be getting into shape. Paul Pierce is finally playing like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen can still shoot the lights out, and even Kevin Garnett has looked more athletic over the last two weeks. Heck, even Jermaine O'Neal had a handful of dunks and some impressive blocks in Tuesday's win. Once Rajon Rondo returns from injury, this club can develop some consistency in its reserve rotations and the starting lineup will resemble the dominate group we've seen in recent years.
Robb: True, largely because this team has little margin for error now and are beginning to gain some continuity as well with the new-look bench. Pierce and Allen are still putting up tremendous shooting numbers and if Rajon Rondo can return to early-season form when he's healthy, Boston is showing the capability of having 2-3 All-Stars playing well on most nights recently. If they can achieve that, they will be a dangerous opponent in the East.
Forsberg: You guys are more confident than me. I'm going with false. Nothing about this team's play screams consistency and I think injuries are always going to be a factor, making it that much more difficult. The Celtics have struggled with slow starts and sloppy finishes, all while being unable to put together 48 minutes of consistent basketball this season. Sure, a healthy roster, including the likes of point guard Rajon Rondo (and key backcourt backup Keyon Dooling) will aid Boston's play and bring much-needed consistency and familiarity to the lineup. That said, the inconsistency might just be par for the course with an aging team in a condensed season. You might simply not know what you're going to get at all times with this team.
3. Prediction time: The Celtics enter February at 10-10 overall. They play 14 games this month, including a daunting five-game road stretch (that includes the All-Star break). What is Boston's record on March 1?
Payne: 21-13. The C's will take 11 of the 14 games in March to vault their way back into the conversation of who the top teams in the Eastern Conference are. They've already played the majority of the really difficult opponents this month (Chicago, Dallas, Oklahoma City), and played them fairly well at a point in the season when they simply weren't clicking as a group. The ship has more or less been righted at this point, and I'm confident in my belief that it'll be a big month for this team.
Robb: 19-15. The challenging road stretch is balanced out by a favorable homestand to start the month. With the roster getting closer to complete health by the day, and the team's game shape no longer appearing to be a major issue, I expect the C's to take care of business at home and hover around .500 on the road.
Forsberg: 19-15 (get out of my head B-Robb!) But two of those wins likely come after the All-Star game, which means Boston is sitting at a less-than-inspiring 17-15 at the All-Star break. The Celtics ease into the month of February, but things really pick up with a nationally televised visit from the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 9. Two games with Chicago (one at the United Center) and visits to Dallas and Oklahoma City loom soon after leading up to the All-Star festivities in Orlando. The Celtics might stumble a bit early in the month, but post All-Star offers a seven-game stretch to really ramp up before what will likely be a season-defining, eight-game road trip (the first five games out west with the trade deadline smack dab in the middle).
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