After gutting out a win in the Clash of the Boroughs, the Brooklyn Nets will head to Boston in hopes of extending their winning streak to four games. The Celtics will be looking to extend a streak of their own, having won their last two games. One of those games was against the dangerous Oklahoma City Thunder, who they defeated 108-100 on November 23.
The Nets' win put them in a tie with the New York Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division, but beating Boston is not just about maintaining position. Brooklyn, despite their 9-4 record, is 2-3 on the road. It is still early in the season, but this is an issue that could turn into a serious problem come playoff time.
Boston, like always, will look to defend their home court with their defense-oriented attack. The Celtics have played hard night after night despite their slow start, and fans should expect nothing less of them when Brooklyn comes to town.
This game can also be called a battle of youth vs. experience. The Nets are a young and plucky team with some fine young players, while the Celtics are slowly ushering themselves out of their Big Three era. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still talented but are 35 and 36 years old and starting to slow down with age.
Young and hungry Brooklyn will look to take full advantage of that and turn this game into a barnburner. Similarly, after losing to the Nets at the Barclays Center on November 15, the Celtics will be looking to give this young team a dose of Boston home cooking.
Time: Wednesday, November 28th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: CSNN, YES
Records: Brooklyn Nets (9-4) vs. Boston Celtics (8-6)
Betting Lines: Brooklyn (+4 1/2), Boston (-4 1/2)
Injuries: Avery Bradley (shoulder, out), Tornike Shengelia (thumb, doubtful)
Key Storyline: Can Nets Overcome Road Woes To Extend Streak?
The Nets have shown marked improvement following their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Center Brook Lopez is among the league leaders in blocks per game and is shedding his reputation as a primarily offensive big man, and Joe Johnson is proving to be just the offensive spark the team needs alongside point man Deron Williams.
The team is still not without flaws. Just like the Miami Heat have ever since the creation of the Big Three, the Nets have struggled on the road this season. Their three road losses have come against the following teams: the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, two championship-caliber teams and one young and scrappy squad that's currently in first place.
Contrastingly, Brooklyn's two road wins have come against lottery teams in the Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings. Not to put a damper on their success this season, but the details surrounding the road record is very telling.
The Nets won't have it easy in Boston either. The Celtics came within one win of a trip to the NBA Finals, losing a hard-fought battle to the eventual champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. They may be off to a sluggish start this season, but their experience speaks for itself and gives them a distinct advantage over younger teams like Brooklyn.
Nets coach Avery Johnson simply must use every weapon in his arsenal, from rebounding machine Reggie Evans to three-point threat Jerry Stackhouse. Experienced Boston is going to have an answer for everything Brooklyn throws at them, which is going to make for a great game.
Key Matchup: Deron Williams vs. Rajon Rondo
The unquestioned leader of the Nets' offense is veteran point guard Deron Williams, who over the summer signed a five-year, $98 million contract to stay with the team. He has struggled with his shooting touch this season, making just 39 percent of his field goals, but his averages are respectable. Williams has posted 16.7 points and 8.9 assists through 13 games.
His shooting woes aren't likely to end in Boston. One of the NBA's finest pests in Rajon Rondo will be guarding him all night long, which would make life hellish for any NBA point guard, experienced or not.
Whereas Williams has struggled with his offensive consistency this season, Rondo has been just the opposite. His mid-range jumper has improved, and he is shooting 52 percent from the field. Rondo is also leading the NBA in passing with 13.7 assists per game.
Rondo is also averaging just under two steals per contest, which doesn't bode well for Williams. He is averaging just over three turnovers per game, a stat which has dogged him throughout his career.
It should also be noted that while Williams is a fine passer, he is also a scoring point guard and doesn't give up the ball as easily as Rondo does. Against a tough defender like Rondo, this could become a problem and result in more turnovers than usual, and a longer night for the Nets.
Williams isn't going to give up scoring points so easily, but tonight he may not have any choice with Rondo on him from start to finish.
X-Factor: Brook Lopez
Prior to this season, Lopez's reputation was as an offensive center whose defensive skills were limited. His blocking and rebounding were respectable, but he only took those stats as they came to him, not really making an effort to make a true impact on defense.
Over his first four seasons, the former Stanford Cardinal averaged 17.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Lopez has turned over a new leaf this season. He is averaging 19.2 points compared to just 6.5 rebounds, but he currently ranks fourth in the NBA with 2.7 blocks per contest. His tenacity on defense has improved mightily, and he has done a fine job under the basket this season, even if his rebounding is still low for someone of his size.
He had 11 rebounds in his team's win against the Knicks, seven of which were of the offensive variety. He has a tough matchup in Boston against veteran big man Kevin Garnett, who has never backed down from a fight on defense and was the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.
Still, Lopez is much younger than Garnett and will do everything he can to win each and every one of their battles in the paint. Williams is going to be dealing with Rondo all night, so the Nets will need Lopez to have a big game in the middle to keep them within reach of a win.
With his improved skill set, the odds of them winning on the road grow.
The Nets will put up a respectable effort against this veteran Boston team, but their road woes will catch up with them. Their overtime victory against the Knicks was a gutsy and emotional one, and it's time for them to come back down to Earth.
Who will win?
Boston will be just as hungry as Brooklyn going into this game, and their desire to overcome a slow start will only help them throughout the night. Rondo will come close to a triple-double and make Williams have another poor shooting night. Paul Pierce will get past the tough defense of Gerald Wallace and score in double figures yet again.
Brook Lopez will do a good job of keeping the game close, but Garnett's overall experience will give him the advantage in the paint. He won't score as many points nor accumulate as many blocks as Lopez, but he'll outrebound him for sure and play a better low-post game.
Throw in some help from the scrappy Celtics bench, and the Beantown fans will rejoice.
Boston Celtics 98, Brooklyn Nets 93