The Boston Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. The Charlotte Bobcats are the league's worst team.
This one should be a fairly easy game to project, right?
Not so fast, my readers. The Celtics are fresh off of a 118-114, triple-overtime win against the Denver Nuggests, while the Bobcats are, uh, pretty healthy iIt's hard to find positive things to say about the Bobcats these days, what can I tell you?).
Let's break down this Monday night clash.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, N
When: Monday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: FSCR (Charlotte); CSNHD/WEEI (Boston)
Streaming: NBA League Pass
Listen: XM Internet 882; XM 218 (Internet 883)
Betting Line: Boston (-4.5), according to Bet Online
Celtics Injuries (via ESPN)
G Rajon Rondo, Knee, Out for Season
Bobcats Injuries (via ESPN)
None to Report
Somehow, some way, the Celtics are 7-0 since Rajon Rondo—the team's undisputed best player—has gone down for the season. Meanwhile, the Bobcats—to nobody's real surprise—come into this game on a seven-game losing streak.
So how are the Celtics winning without Rondo? And what do the Bobcats need to break this losing streak?
One of the differences for this Celtics team is that the team is sharing the ball and involving all five players on the court each possession. Rondo was playing excellent basketball this season, but the entirety of the offense ran through him.
Now, the offense is flowing and the ball movement has been truly excellent. The results are palpable—as ESPN notes, "The Celtics average 96.4 points with 23.4 assists per game on the season, but have scored 105.0 and handed out 25.6 assists in seven games without Rondo."
But the Bobcats might be getting the Celtics at the perfect time. Boston is fresh off of a three-overtime victory over the Denver Nuggets, and the old legs of the Celtics' might be a little creaky on Monday evening.
Perhaps Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson can take advantage of that fact. It's probably a longshot for a Bobcats team that is 4-34 since starting the season 7-5, but every little advantage has to be taken by the Bobcats.
Key Matchup: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Paul Pierce
Once again, Paul Pierce leads the Celtics in scoring, averaging 18.8 points per game. He remains the player the Celtics want with the ball in his hands down the stretch, and he's a more complete player than people give him credit for, also providing solid defense, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Which makes Kidd-Gilchrist's task of defending him all the more difficult.
MKG has been solid if unspectacular during his rookie season, averaging 9.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game. Truthfully, he's been better offensively than people might have expected this early in his career, and if he can make Pierce work on the defensive end I'll be impressed.
But more importantly, MKG must do his best to frustrate Pierce's offensive game when the two are matched against each other on the court. If Pierce has tired legs after playing 54 minutes on Sunday night, MKG must make him scrape and scuffle for every basket.
If Kidd-Gilchrist can stifle Pierce, the Bobcats will have a shot to keep things close and potentially even win in the end.
X-Factor: Kemba Walker
If there is one player capable of going crazy and leading the Bobcats to victory against Boston, it's Walker. The explosive guard leads the team in points (17.3), assists (5.6) and steals (1.9) per game.
He's been in somewhat of a slump in Februrary, however, shooting just 37.3 percent from the field and averaging 12.8 points in five games. If the Bobcats are going to break a seven-game losing streak, Walker needs to consistently produce.
Projected Starting Lineups
PG: Avery Bradley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Gerald Henderson
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Bismack Biyombo
C: Byron Mullens
Normally, you might worry about a veteran team coming off a three-overtime win and playing on the road the next night. But the Celtics are red hot and the Bobcats are easily the worst team in the NBA this season. This might be tighter than expected, but the Celtics will win, 93-80.