2-on-2: Celtics vs. Wolves (Game 51 of 66)
1. Two-parter: (1) How many rebounds for Love and (2) What else will you be focused on in this matchup between the Celtics and Wolves?
Payne: I'll go with 17 rebounds for Kevin Love, and I'm actually interested to watch his matchup with Garnett in this one. It'll be a classic battle of past versus present, and, contrary to what each player will probably say, you have to figure Love will want to upstage the greatest player in the history of the Wolves' franchise, while Garnett will want to squash the player now running his old club. Garnett still boasts some pretty steady defensive chops, so it'll be fun to watch him go up against Love, who's become an offensive juggernaut of late, averaging 37.3 points over his last four games.
Forsberg: When all signs point to Love outrebounding the Celtics on his own, go the other way, right? Let's say a modest 14 rebounds (it'll either be that or 41; let's assume Boston will put a hefty focus on Love). It's going to be hard to take our eyes away from the KG-Love battles (particularly without Ricky Rubio on the floor), but here's a few more things I'll be interested in: (1) How does Ray Allen and his sore right ankle look if he's back on the floor after missing the last four games, including how different the Boston starters operate while moving the more defensive-minded Avery Bradley back to a reserve role; (2) The Wolves are the best team in the league in late-clock offense, according to Synergy Sports data, so let's see if the Celtics can prevent those back-breaking jumpers when the shot clock is under four seconds; (3) Minnesota, while above average defensively (13th in points allowed per play, according to Synergy), really struggles to defend the pick-and-roll (28th). It's up to Rajon Rondo to exploit that tonight; (4) And, of course, as a Northeastern guy, I'll have an eye on Jose Juan Barea.
2. KG said he's got "nothing positive to say" about the Timberwolves organization. Can he keep his emotions in check vs. Minnesota?
Payne: KG's ferocity on the court rarely hurts his team, so I'm not overly worried about him keeping his emotions in check tonight. Normally Garnett playing at that heightened level of emotion and intensity helps him raise his entire game, so if I'm Doc Rivers or any of Garnett's teammates tonight, I'm being very careful about telling him to tone it down, for fear of him losing that spark and not regaining it. At the same time, though, Garnett's been in this league long enough to know that the current Wolves squad has next to no association with his days there, so he might give a wave to the crowd (who should give him a standing ovation), but then it'll be all business. If anything, playing at that heightened level will come from being matched up against Love.
Forsberg: Despite being away from Minnesota for five years now, this is still only Garnett's sixth time going up against his old team. His stat lines won't overwhelm you during that span, though he has averaged 14 points and 9.3 rebounds pe game in three visits to his old stomping grounds. As Payne pointed out, Garnett usually only thrives when he's amped up and he certainly seemed to have a little extra pep in his step after going up against former Timberwolves center Al Jefferson in Wednesday's win over the Jazz. Let's see if he can carry that over and harness it properly. Garnett's been so good in the second half of the season, it's hard to imagine he won't.
Play Podcast ESPN NFL reporter Field Yates covers expectations for Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots' outlook, LeSean McCoy's injury and Alex Smith's contract negotiations with the Chiefs.
Play Podcast Buster Olney and Justin Havens discuss how teams that made major deals have fared since the deadline. Plus, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer on the strange circumstances caused by weather.