Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul meet again on Thursday in Los Angeles.Coming off a solid win in Brooklyn on Christmas Day, the Boston Celtics (14-13, 5-8 away) make the second stop on a four-game road trip when they visit the Los Angeles Clippers (22-6, 13-3 home) on Thursday night at the Staples Center (10:30 p.m., TNT). Here's what to watch for:
* RONDO VS. CP3: The Rajon Rondo-Chris Paul rivalry has always had a little extra pizzazz to it. Then last November, rumors swirled that the Celtics were interested in swapping the guards. Paul ultimately landed with the Clippers, helping to facilitate their ascension to legitimate contender. The two players met only once last year in Los Angeles as Rondo's 12 points and 10 assists helped Boston emerge with a win in a chippy game. Thursday could feature more of the same as the Celtics will be looking to end the Clippers' 14-game winning streak in a national TV battle. Which is to say that Rondo shouldn't lack for motivation.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The from-afar perception of the Clippers is a high-octane, highlight-heavy offense spearheading their success. Yes, Los Angeles ranks fifth in the league averaging an efficient 0.969 points per play, but the team plays at a league-average pace and ranks ninth in points per game. The secret masked by all those Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan flashbulb finishes is that the Clippers rank third in the NBA by allowing a mere 0.87 points per play, according to Synergy data (and they hop to No. 2 in the league in the half-court set). Griffin's defensive numbers are off the charts (0.646 points per play, 97th percentile) and the Clippers as a team rank 12th or better against all six of their opponent's top play types. Opponents average a mere 91.9 points per game and that is actually the biggest reason for the team's current streak (only twice have opponents reached triple figures in that 14-game stretch).
* MATCHING UP IN FRONTCOURT: The Celtics have gone big lately with Jason Collins and Kevin Garnett comprising the starting frontcourt, but Los Angeles' athleticism will challenge Boston's bigs. The Celtics will need undersized forwards like Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger to get by with their energy and grit while trying to match up against a frontcourt that isn't just big, but can jump out of the gym. The Celtics got physical the last time these two teams met and might need to play with a similar edge again on Thursday.
* KEEP IT GOING: The Celtics were brilliant on Christmas Day in Brooklyn, which means you should have no idea what team will emerge on Thursday night. A Boston team that speaks often about putting together a sustained winning streak hasn't put together a sustained winning streak this season. Each quality win is met with a fresh dose of optimism, only to be dashed soon after. The Celtics have a tough task given how well the Clippers are playing and, unfortunately for Boston, the bottom line is all that really matters, so there's added pressure to simply emerge with the victory.