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The Celtics will likely be without the services of Kevin Garnett against the Mavericks.Things don't get any easier for the struggling Boston Celtics (15-15, 4-7 away) -- losers of three straight and five of six -- as they play the second night of a back-to-back agains the Dallas Mavericks (20-12, 12-5 home) on Monday night at American Airlines Center (8 p.m., TNT). To preview the matchup, we go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb.
1. What worries you most about this game against the Dallas Mavericks?
Payne: Dallas' defense and overall talent level. The Celtics' defense, overall, this season, has been very good, but Dallas has so many offensive weapons and they have great length throughout their whole roster. Given the Celtics' offensive struggles lately, I'm worried about Dallas just smothering them on the defensive end.
Robb: Before yesterday, Dallas had been playing extremely well as of late, rolling off five straight wins over quality opponents. With a refreshed Dirk Nowitzki wreaking havoc on defenses already and the Celtics ill-equipped to stop him without the services of Kevin Garnett, this back-to-back could get ugly in a hurry.
Forsberg: Dallas opponents are shooting a league-worst 41.6 percent from the floor and average a mere 91.2 points per game. For a Boston team struggling to generate any sort of rhythm on offense at the moment, that's an incredibly daunting obstacle on the second night of a back-to-back. Opponents have shown an ability to get to the free throw line against the Mavericks, but that's clearly not one of jumper-happy Boston's strengths at the moment. The Celtics need to be super aggressive this evening if they're going to score enough to hang around against a team with this many weapons.
2. Break out the panic meters: What's the hysteria level after Sunday's eyesore in Detroit?
Payne: The concern level has to be fairly high at this point. What's most disturbing is the lack of life, or spunk, or whatever you want to call it. The Celtics' effort was horrendous against Detroit last night and if that doesn't improve, this team is going nowhere fast. That lack of effort has definitely contributed to their rebound and turnover issues, no question.
Robb: It's up there, but overall I think the level of panic is still a bit overblown. Lawrence Frank has the Pistons playing extremely well of late, and the way the C's are playing right now, they aren't going to beat anyone without their top two power forwards in the lineup. The offensive dropoff from those two is just too severe. With that said, the recurring turnover and rebounding issues could reach a boiling point soon, unless some improvement is shown in both of those areas.
Forsberg: At this point, panic is inevitably high, but I think Celtics fans need to just be numb to the regular season. I can't stress this enough: It's going to be a wild roller coaster ride the rest of the way, with the potential for steep valleys (and ones that will likely outnumber the peaks given the daunting road-heavy schedule). I'm not sure any amount of maneuvering will aid this team in morphing into a more consistent team, not in this condensed season, so you might just have to endure the ride and hope everything starts clicking before May arrives. Don't get too high when they win nine of 10; don't get too low when they lose three straight. Just try to enjoy the ride and only invest yourself emotionally when the playoffs roll around.
3. More concerning moving forward for Boston: Turnovers, rebounding, or lack of free throws generated?
Payne: I'd say free throws generated because the Celtics are certainly crippling their offense a bit by not getting to the line. How many times have we seen someone like Paul Pierce practically control the tone of a game by getting to the line over and over again? It adds another dimension to Boston's attack, and it would help them start to solve their recent offensive woes.
Robb: The rebounding. Turnovers have plagued this team for five years now, so there is no switch they can turn to make them go away, it's just the nature of this team. This season however is the first year defensive rebounding has been a major issue. A lot of it is personnel, but the C's need to rely on gang rebounding at this point from Rajon Rondo all the way down the line. These guys can hold their own when they apply themselves. Unfortunately, they've been unwilling to do that all season as the problem has become worse as the season has wore on.
Forsberg: The rebounding is what scares me most because this team isn't going to grow overnight. You can get more aggressive on offense and get to the stripe and you can value the ball better. But if offensive rebounds continue to erase all the good this team is doing in denying first-chance opportunities, then Boston is just going to continue to be a frustrated bunch. When the Celtics control the glass, everything else flows off of that, most notably transition opportunities. Having Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett back will aid that cause, but Boston still needs to sturdy dribble penetration issues, and boxing out technique, if they want to get back to being competitive on the glass.