The Boston Celtics have lost two in a row, and will look to break that streak when they visit the Chicago Bulls for the second time tonight. The two last faced each other on November 12, and Boston rode a near triple-double from Rajon Rondo to a 101-95 victory.
A lot has taken place in the last month. Boston's collective age has been exposed, and the team has struggled to a 4-7 record on the road. As a whole, the Celtics look very average and not at all like the team that came within a win of a trip to the NBA Finals last season.
Chicago has also not been at its best this season, as star point guard Derrick Rose continues to come back from ACL surgery. Despite that, the Bulls have continued to play well as a unit and are in first place in the Central Division. In the star's absence, everyone has done a great job of stepping up their efforts.
Of course, the Bulls are still a young team compared to the experienced Celtics. Boston, despite its age, has various advantages over Chicago, and will look to exploit them as it looks to get back on the winning track tonight.
Time: Tuesday, December 18, 8 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Chicago, CSN HD
Records: Boston Celtics (12-11) vs. Chicago Bulls (13-10)
Betting Lines: Boston (+1.5), Chicago (-1.5)
Injuries: Avery Bradley (shoulder, out), Derrick Rose (knee, out), Richard Hamilton (foot, out)
Key Storyline: Can Boston Break Streak Away from Home?
If Boston is to break its two-game losing streak tonight, the team will have to overcome the road woes that have plagued it all season. The Celtics are 4-7 away from TD Garden, and a loss tonight would send them home following a winless road trip.
Fortunately for the Celtics, the Bulls have not necessarily been unstoppable at home. Chicago has gone 7-6 at the United Center this season, clearly missing the Rose's presence in the lineup.
Boston will have a clear advantage at the point tonight with Rajon Rondo, who guided the Celtics to a win in Chicago earlier this season. If he is on his game and his go-to guys make their shots consistently, Boston's chances at victory will grow tremendously.
However, don't count the Bulls out just yet. After losing to Boston at home in November, they will surely have watched a lot of tape to figure out what not to do this time around.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau will definitely have a defensive strategy in place aimed to shut down Rondo, and will also have plenty of plays set so that stars Luol Deng and Joakim Noah get plenty of opportunities on offense.
Both teams are banged up and looking for a win, which will make for a close final result. In a battle of youth vs. experience, this should be quite the game to watch.
Key Matchup: Luol Deng vs. Paul Pierce
Even as the team's age begins to show, the Celtics can still count on veteran Paul Pierce to have a great game. The 35-year-old has only shot 41 percent from the field this season, but is still averaging 19.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Pierce has also shot a respectable 35 percent from long range, further maintaining his status as one of the best scorers in the NBA.
Pierce is also one of the game's best defenders, averaging 1.6 steals on the season, and he will be matched up tonight against another fine pest in Chicago's Luol Deng. The former Duke Blue Devil has done a fine job stepping up in Rose's absence and has provided quality offense as well as great lockdown defense.
Deng also has a distinct advantage against Pierce in that he is only 27 years old. It doesn't count for much, but could still make enough of a difference over the course of the game. Deng has also averaged 41 minutes to Pierce's 34.3, further adding to the case that he is more durable and can spend more time on the floor.
Pierce could have a hard time defending Deng, who is known for his ability to drive hard to the basket as well as perform off the dribble. The man is currently averaging 17.5 points per game on the season, and will look to put up even more against an aging Celtics team.
This means fighting through the experienced Pierce's defense, which could prove to be just a small part of an epic battle between these two talented forwards.
X-Factor: Jeff Green
Green has been a great spark off the bench for the Celtics this season, providing everything from scoring to pesky defense. Over his past five games, he has averaged 13.8 points and 4.6 rebounds, finally showcasing some of the lightning he had in his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Against a young Chicago Bulls team, head coach Doc Rivers will be relying on Green to continue his fine play off the bench. The former Georgetown Hoya has great speed to go with his undeniable talent, and always plays his hardest no matter how long he is on the floor.
It's unclear who will be guarding Green, as he is 6'9", 235 pounds and quite the versatile forward. Regardless, he needs to be at his best and not be afraid to take risks against a tough Chicago defense that ranks second in points allowed per game.
This means driving hard to the basket and drawing fouls, while also not hesitating to drain a three-pointer or take a jump shot. He is shooting 44 percent from the field this season, so this should not be a problem.
Green is a talented young player capable of some electrifying play. If Boston wants to end its road trip with a win, Green needs to perform well.
Boston may have won in the Windy City earlier this season, but that's not going to happen today. The Celtics will go winless on their road trip, unable to get past the young Bulls' scrappy defense.
Who will win?
The game will still be a close one, as the lack of both Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton will keep Chicago from turning the game into a blowout. Just the same, Luol Deng will fight past Pierce's defense and carry the team offensively, with Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli and the rest providing help as needed.
The Celtics will see fine performances from Rondo and Pierce, but off-nights from Jeff Green and Kevin Garnett will just sink Boston in the second half. At that point, it will be Belinelli and Deng who make the clutch shots that matter.
Boston will be able to keep the score close most of the game, but just wait until the final minutes of the third quarter. That is when Chicago will start to pull away and avenge its early season loss against the road-weary Celtics.
Final Score: Bulls 96, Celtics 87
All statistics in this article are accurate as of December 17, 2012