Celtics vs. Bulls: Keys to Watch as Storied Clubs Make Playoff Push

Morgan Chalfant@@mchalfant16Contributor IIIFebruary 13, 2013

Celtics vs. Bulls: Keys to Watch as Storied Clubs Make Playoff Push

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    The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls will face off tonight, and as both teams have pretty competitive records, they are both looking towards the playoffs at this point.

    Even though both Boston and Chicago have been plagued by injury, they’ve fought through the obstacles and are both playing well currently. Let’s examine the crucial players and possible setbacks of each team as they look forward. 

Matchup at the Point: Avery Bradley and Derrick Rose

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    Now that Rajon Rondo is out for the season with an ACL tear, Avery Bradley is running the point in Boston and doing a great job with guard Courtney Lee at his side. For the last 10 games, Bradley is averaging 9.1 points, three rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals in 30.3 minutes of game play. He played particularly well during the Celtics’ 118-114 win against Denver in which the young guard grabbed 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

    The point guard position in Chicago has generated much chatter since Derrick Rose suffered an ACL injury last season. He underwent surgery on May 12 of last year and was expected to take eight to 12 months to recover. According to the International Business Times, head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rose’s recovery and current practicing, "We just want to make sure he’s ready to go, but he’s right on schedule.” He continued, “This is what we had planned all along. Just want to be smart. He’s got to continue to focus on his rehab.”

    If Rose returns as planned by the time the playoffs begin, he will likely make an impact. Just two years ago, the stellar point guard won the MVP award and helped the Bulls achieve the best record in the Central Conference.

Matchup at Center: Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah

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    Both the Celtics and the Bulls have extremely strong players on the low post who will prove invaluable during the playoffs. In Boston, there’s Kevin Garnett, the 36-year-old forward-center who has consistently dominated in green. For the last 10 games, KG averaged 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 32.5 minutes per game. While incredibly talented, Garnett does have age working against him and needs to watch his minutes so he’s healthy come playoff time.

    The Bulls have Joakim Noah, a center who could very well be a candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award. For the last 10 games, the 27-year-old big man averaged 13.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, improving upon his season statistics. Even more impressive, the center grabbed 15 rebounds and five assists during the Bulls’ 103-89 loss to San Antonio.

Matchup at Forward: Brandon Bass and Carlos Boozer

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    The power forward spot is another valuable position for each team. Boston’s Brandon Bass has played all right recently, averaging 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 6.8 points for the last 10 games. His statistics for February are slightly higher; the power forward has 5.5 rebounds and 7.7 points per game for this month. However, Bass needs to step it up and score more points if he’s going to compete with Chicago’s Carlos Boozer.

    Boozer has played great even without star point guard Rose, averaging 5.7 rebounds and 13.6 points in 27.3 minutes for the last 10 games. What’s more, he’s averaging 15.3 points per game for February, an indication that the 31-year-old power forward is on a hot streak that could possibly continue into the playoffs if the Bulls are lucky. 

Injuries That Could Hinder Both Teams

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    Obviously, injury could come back to haunt both Boston and Chicago, especially during the playoffs. Boston has been hit especially hard in the last few weeks. First, it was Rajon Rondo’s ACL tear that will put him out for the season. Then, it was rookie big man Jared Sullinger’s back injury that will also put him out for the season. And, on Monday night, back-up guard Leandro Barbosa went down. As of yesterday, ESPN reported that Barbosa suffered a torn left ACL.

    Even though the Bulls are hopeful for Derrick Rose’s return, the Sports World Report speculates that he could indeed miss the rest of the season if not up to full recovery. Moreover, according to ESPN, Joakim Noah is being bothered by plantar fasciitis, which could potentially interfere with his play. 

Overall Statistical Matchup

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    As it stands, both teams are doing pretty well statistically for the season. The Celtics are currently ranked 3rd in the Atlantic Division with 16 wins and 16 losses in the Eastern Conference. Overall, Boston has 27 wins and 24 losses. As long as Bradley and Courtney Lee continue to flourish at the point and the injuries don’t hold them back too much, the Celtics should fare well up until the playoffs.

    The Bulls rank a bit better with 2nd place in the Central Division. They have 23 wins and only nine losses in the Eastern Conference, and overall they have 30 wins and 21 losses. Without Rose, the Bulls have played great. If and when he returns, they will undoubtedly play even better.