The Toronto Raptors (17-31) take on divisional rivals Boston Celtics (24-23) who are currently on a four-game win streak.
The Celtics are without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo who will miss the remainder of the season due to an ACL tear suffered on January 27th against the Miami Heat. Rondo is a key initiator of their offence and definitely hurts their playoff chances.
News is also swirling that Raptors bigman Andrea Bargnani will be back today. If he does indeed play, look for him to come off of the bench and be eased back into his normal playing time. How he will fit into Coach Dwane Casey’s system without Jose Calderon and with the newly acquired Rudy Gay is yet to be seen.
Cage’s 5 Keys to the Game
1. Paul Pierce
We all know Pierce is a lethal scoring capable of breaking down defenses with his plethora of moves, but ever since Rondo went down to injury, he’s been called upon to create for others as well. In the last week, Pierce is averaging 17 points per game, nine rebounds per game, and five assists per game all in 32 minutes per contest. These are All-Star numbers. Pierce must be slowed down.
2. Kevin Garnett
Garnett is definitely out of his prime but he still an elite defender and can step it up when he has to. Coach Doc Rivers also like to use Garnett to create out of the low and high post, something he’s been doing his whole career. Amir Johnson is going to have his hands full tonight.
3. Defend Hard
This should go without saying but it’s always important to defend super hard against teams that can score at ease. Ever since Rondo went down, the Celtics are surprisingly scoring more than they were with him, about five more points per game to be exact. The Celtics have a lot of attackers outside the obvious in Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Leandro Barbosa, and Brandon Bass. Raptors need to hold them to less than 100 points.
4. Crash The Boards
The Celtics are a poor rebounding team, averaging less than 40 rebounds per game as a team. They also give up 11 offensive rebounds a game which is way too high for a team wanting to be competitive in the playoffs. Raptors need to crash the boards again and again. Expect Johnson to have a big rebounding number tonight.
5. Andrea Bargnani
With the new addition of Gay, there are a lot of questions remained to be answered. How will shots be distributed? How will minutes be distributed? How will Bargnani fit into Casey’s team oriented system? These are all vital questions that we will see in the coming games. But tonight, we finally get to see how Bargnani and Gay will play together. Expect him to play a few minutes off the bench.
Tonight’s X-Factor for the Raptors is going to be DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has finally stepped up in 2013. In the last two weeks, he is averaging 20 points, three rebounds, and five assists per contest. This is a huge improvement for DeRozan who was struggling mightily in January. He seems very comfortable playing next to Gay and hopefully he continues to play aggressively tonight.
Picture source: REUTERS/Mike Cassese