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Paul Pierce at work against the Portland Trail Blazers.The Boston Celtics (8-7, 4-4 home) host the Portland Trail Blazers (6-9, 2-6 away) on Friday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:
* POINT GUARDS IN FOCUS: Rajon Rondo will begin serving a two-game suspension on Friday night and that robs us of a chance to see him match up with Portland's rookie standout Damian Lillard. The Celtics have to figure out how to facilitate offense without a true backup ball-handler, putting Leandro Barbosa, Jason Terry, and Courtney Lee in the spotlight as they combine to handle those chores. Expect Paul Pierce to dabble in his typical point forward role without Rondo. On the other side, Lillard has been spectacular -- at least offensively -- and accounts for a whopping 18.9 percent of the Blazers' total plays, second only to LaMarcus Aldridge (20 percent), according to Synergy Sports data.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: Offensively, the Blazers rank in the middle of the pack (0.911 points per play, 15th overall in NBA, according to Synergy). Sparked by Lillard, Portland thrives in transition (6th best in league) and attacks in the pick-and-roll (2nd in league when the ball-handler finishes the play) in halfcourt sets. Defensively, the Blazers are exploitable, ranking 29th while giving up 0.966 points per play. The Celtics have to figure out a way to crank the tempo and get in transition, even without Rondo on the floor to lead that charge.
* WHERE'S THE TOUGHNESS?: The Celtics are shorthanded and in danger of dipping to .500 with a loss. This is exactly the type of game that coach Doc Rivers wants to see his team dig deep and produce a gritty effort. The Blazers don't dominate on the glass, so the Celtics should be competitive there. The question is whether the defense can bring its hard hat and withstand the loss of Rondo (yes, for all his own struggles with allowing dribble penetration, the Boston defense actually has actually seen a more pronounced drop-off than the offense when Rondo is off the floor).
* KG vs. ALDRIDGE: The Oregonian has a nice recap of the history between Garnett and Aldridge. Garnett won't have Rondo to help facilitate his offense, but still needs to be a factor, all while being in the crosshairs of the Blazers.