- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Hornets don't look much like the team the Celtics saw last year.We're trying something a little different this year to get you geared up for game days. Before each contest, we'll play a little game of 3-on-3 discussing the hot topics around the Celtics and looking ahead at the next opponent.
The Celtics travel to New Orleans Wednesday night for the back end of their first back-to-back this season (8 p.m., CSN). I'm joined by ESPN Boston intern Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb. Let's play a little 3-on-3:
1. Fact or Fiction: Two losses in two games is no big deal for Boston
Payne: Fact. While a team never wants to start out 0-2, the Celtics have shown plenty of heart and grit in their two losses (both against high-quality Eastern Conference opponents) and that, to me, is very encouraging. I'd be far more concerned if Boston had simply keeled over once it fell behind by double-digits in both contests. But the fact is, even without their leading scorer in Paul Pierce -- who will provide needed offense in the final minutes -- these Celtics have fought until the final whistle, and we should be encouraged by that, not dismayed. If the Celtics can bring that same intensity against the lesser teams of the NBA (the Hornets, for example), they'll have no trouble righting the ship.
Robb: Fact. Obviously the slow start is not ideal, but given the opponents and injury problems Boston has been dealt out of the gate here, it's hard to get overly concerned. The upcoming schedule also helps to soften the blow as four likely non-playoff teams are next on the docket (New Orleans, Detroit, Washington (twice), New Jersey). Lose to a couple of those teams and you have a problem. For now? There were enough positive signs from the first two contests to avoid the panic button.
Forsberg: Fact. But I'll say this: If the Celtics lose in New Orleans, feel free to dust off those panic buttons. While there's been plenty to be encouraged by, there's been an equal amount to lament (particularly the utter disappearance of this team's defense that had to resort to a zone to scramble back against Miami). The one thing that concerns me: Good teams find a way to overcome their mistakes and win games. The Celtics have hung tough in the face of adversity, but they've faltered in crunch time. That's when this team is supposed to be better than everyone else based on their experience together.
2. Which player do the Celtics need more out of without Paul Pierce?
Payne: Kevin Garnett, particularly on the offensive end. According to HoopData, the majority of Garnett's shots this season have come 16- to 23-feet away from the basket -- no real surprises there -- but with Pierce out, he needs to be more willing to post up on the block and create easier looks for himself. I wouldn't mind seeing Garnett take closer to 20 shots per game while Pierce is out, with roughly half of those (if not more) coming within 10 feet of the rim.
Robb: Jermaine O'Neal. The "MVP" of Celtics training camp has been anything but in the early going, O'Neal has a step slow defensively and incapable of keeping up on either end of the floor through two games, tallying just six points and three rebounds in 38 minutes of action. He's also faced regular foul trouble (nine personal fouls) in both losses as well. With Boston being scored upon at will throughout the first two games, O'Neal has to step up, especially on the defensive end, to help make up for Pierce's absence.
Forsberg: O'Neal, and especially in this game. This is the team that the Celtics were trying to deal J.O. to this offseason in exchange for David West. It's also the team that wanted no part of O'Neal and couldn't find someone to take on his salary. If that -- combined with a foul-plagued start to the 2011-12 season -- isn't enough to light a fire under O'Neal on Wednesday, it might be time to worry. O'Neal doesn't have to be a big-time scorer, but the Celtics need his defensive presence around the basket (especially when someone like Miami is shooting 56 percent overall).
3. Chris Paul took his talents to Lob City. Why fear the Hornets?
Payne: During the new Big Three era, the Celtics have had a nasty habit of playing down to weaker teams -- particularly ones that are younger and more athletic. As a result, this game has red flags all over it. If Rajon Rondo and his club can maintain the same sense of intensity that was so prevalent in the team's losses to New York and Miami, the C's will be fine. But if their energy level wanes early -- something that could be spurred on by it being the first back-to-back of the season -- they could be in for a long night against a team with youth, size, and athleticism.
Robb: Eric Gordon. Having Ray Allen chase around one of the best young scorers in the game just 24 hours after dealing with Dwyane Wade all night is a scary proposition. The C's need to step up their defensive game against Gordon and the rest of the Hornets to keep themselves from having to play catch-up for the third straight contest.
Forsberg: Home opener. Don't underestimate the idea of a team's first game in its building. The Hornets opened the season with a big win over Phoenix with Gordon hitting a monster 20-footer in the final seconds to seal that win. Even in the post-Paul era, the Hornets are going to be amped up to show what they can do with all this young talent. They get Jarrett Jack back Wednesday (one-game suspension) and Marco Belinelli went off against Boston last season. As they've learned in recent games, the Celtics really need to set the tone early and take the crowd out of it.