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Kevin Garnett and the Celtics look to get back on the winning track vs. Portland on Friday.The Boston Celtics (20-18, 15-8 home) get one last taste of homecoming on Friday night when they host the Portland Trail Blazers (19-20, 5-13 away) at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). Boston embarks on a season-long eight-game road trip after Friday's game and won't be back in the Hub until late March. But its focus now is the Blazers and to preview the matchup, we play a game of 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb.
1. What should scare the Celtics most about the Trail Blazers?
Payne: Getting into a run-and-gun style shootout. Portland has too many offensive weapons for the Celtics to overcome if they try and get by tonight without playing any real defense. The Blazers have a legitimate (and still underrated) All-Star in Lamarcus Aldridge, athletic wing players in Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews, a point guard capable of pushing the pace in Raymond Felton, and a true offensive force off the bench in Jamal Crawford, who has made some of the most ridiculous shots the league has seen over the last several years. An offensive-oriented game won't favor the Celtics tonight. Defense has to be the main priority, even more than usual.
Robb: Just like Philadelphia, they are a desperate team right now having dropped four of their last five games. There are plenty of trade rumors swirling in the Pacific Northwest as the Blazers have dropped out of the top 8 spot in the Western Conference, making this pit stop in Boston even more crucial than normal. This roster has plenty to prove if they want to stay together and plenty of athletic talent as well which could give Boston fits. Look for Portland to come out hungry Friday night.
Forsberg: Portland's in last place in the Northwest Division. They'd be a playoff team in the East. They truly are one of those sneakily deceptive teams. Look at their stats and you'll wonder how they're not five wins better than their record reflects. About the only thing the Blazers don't do better than average is rebound and that shouldn't exactly be a concern against Boston. Not that past success matters much, but the Blazers haven't won in Boston since 2004 and have been one of the league's worst road teams this season. That said, the Celtics know how daunting a desperate team could be. If the Blazers are clicking offensively, this one will be a grind for Boston.
2. What's your biggest takeaway from Wednesday's loss in Philly?
Payne: I'll echo Paul Pierce's thoughts and say that it's one of those games you simply discard and move on from. You don't try and extract any significant takeaways. You accept the loss for what it was -- the worst defeat in recent memory -- and you focus on the next opponent. Hopefully this club has already driven the Philly loss out of its collective memory and is fully focused on handling the Blazers tonight.
Robb: The C's aren't going to be able to get away with being dominated on the glass by elite teams. Boston stole a win against Houston Tuesday night despite being eviscerated on the boards, but weren't as lucky Wednesday night in Philly. Providing teams with second chances, especially top defensive teams like the Sixers via offensive rebounds will lead to ugly nights like we saw, since keeping pace on the offensive end will turn into a never-ending uphill battle. In order to compensate, Boston must continue to bring constant energy in this department every night to remain competitive.
Forsberg: The schedule is going to make it very difficult for Boston to make much of a surge up the East seedings in the second half of the season. With all these games crammed together over the next month-plus, you can't expect too many five-game winning streaks like the one the team put together coming out of the break. It's still going to be a roller coaster and, at some point, the Celtics might have to start thinking about strategy in how to line up for the postseason over winning games. Speaking of which ...
3. Let's talk seeding strategy. Should the Celtics seek to avoid Heat/Bulls in first round, or line themselves up right out of the gates?
Payne: They should definitely seek to avoid the Heat and the Bulls in the first round. By delaying either matchup, both the Bulls and Heat will have to work through another playoff series first (as will the Celtics), and who knows what could happen then. While it's unlikely either team will lose in the first round, a crucial player could fall victim to injury, which would leave the door wide open for Boston. The same risks apply for the Celtics in such a scenario, and while you could argue it'd be better for them to take on a Chicago or a Miami with fresher legs, I say let it play out and hope for some kind of miracle.
Robb: Interesting question. Common logic tells us to avoid a first-round showdown with one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. On the other hand, might it make more sense to try to take one of these elite squads out early, perhaps when Boston has an improved chance of being more rested and/or healthy in the opening round round of the postseason? Given that there are tougher outs at the bottom of the East on paper this year (see: New York Knicks) I'm inclined to believe Boston is better off waiting on the outside chance something crazy happens in an early postseason to Chicago or New York. However, if the cost of a top 6 seed is Doc Rivers having to run this squad into the ground down the stretch in April, Boston would be better off taking their chances with a rested squad in a first-round showdown.
Forsberg: Unless the Celtics are in position to make a real surge into the middle seeds and it won't come at the expense of using up all their energy over the final weeks of the regular season, I remain convinced it would be better for the Celtics to position themselves with, say, Miami (a team it seems to match up better with than Chicago) in the first round and just give the Heat their best crack out of the gates. It's likely that any first-round series for Boston is going to be a grind (and it likely won't be for a top seed), so why not rest yourself up over the final couple weeks of the regular season and give all you've got against a top dog (heck, if Boston wins that first-round series, they become a top seed with an easier draw in the second round). Remember, second-round series this season will feature back-to-back games, adding another layer of difficulty to any series against an elite squad. The opening round is a chance for Boston to just give everything they've got and see if they can find some magic. It's far from ideal, but that's the way it goes this season.