Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: First of all, who's expected to play or not to play?
Zach Lowe, CelticsHub: As of the moment I'm writing this (around 11 p.m. [Thursday]), everyone is in except for Kevin Garnett, with the caveat that Eddie House (just over a bout with the flu) is having trouble flying out of Boston because of delays related to whatever passes for a snowstorm down in Atlanta. (ed. note--It's not the snow so much as the unpreparedness for ice down here.) If House gets there, he'll play. Paul Pierce returned Wednesday after missing two weeks with a knee injury and basically looked fine. Rajon Rondo showed no ill effects from a hamstring problem that had been nagging.
So it's the full team, minus KG.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: What are the keys to victory from the Celtic perspective?
Zach Lowe, CelticsHub: Well, the C's obviously can't allow the Hawks to rebound 40 percent of their own misses, which happened the first time around, when the Hawks just destroyed Boston on the offensive glass. The C's have fallen all the way to #18 in defensive rebounding percentage, easily the worst they've been at any point in the nearly 2 1/2 seasons with KG and Ray Allen.
Beyond that, I'd like to see Rajon Rondo attack Mike Bibby off the dribble more aggressively tonight---both on screen/roll and otherwise. Rajon took only four shots the first time these two teams played, and that's not nearly enough against a defensive sieve like Bibby, who is (at times) the only weak defensive player on the court for Atlanta.
Stopping Joe Johnson is always an issue for Boston. Ray Allen isn't big enough to guard him, and the C's in the past have been reluctant to put Pierce on Johnson for more than a few possessions at a time. Look for Boston to either trap Johnson on screen/rolls or shade a second defender over his way to deter penetration.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Wayne Winston (with characteristic bluntness) credited Ray Allen as the driving force behind the Celtic offense the other day. Not watching them game in, game out and having noticed that Paul Pierce looked really healthy and put up impressive numbers before his knee infection this surprised me. So what's deal: small sample size, something that the box scores don't show, or a bit of both?
Zach Lowe, CelticsHub: I wrote about this the other day. (ed. note--Click and read that link.) It's a really wonderful little basketball mystery, but the publicly available stats suggest Winston is onto something--that Ray Allen, for whatever reason, makes things run more efficiently on offense. His individual numbers are all down (especially his three-point shooting mark), but he has easily the best plus/minus among Boston's regulars, and that goes for any way you want to calculate plus/minus--raw, adjusted, whatever.
Even more interesting: Line-ups that consist of Ray and four back-ups are just killing it on offense. Over the past two seasons, Doc Rivers has used fairly predictable substitution patterns; he most often starts the 2nd and 4th quarters with units consisting of four back-ups and either Pierce or Ray Allen as the lone starter. (Doc has been more flexible this season, but the pattern remains). And the back-up units with Ray consistently outperform the back-up units with Pierce--and it's not even close.
I have no idea why this is, though I have a bunch of theories. So you're right that his individual game is down this season, but he brings something to the court that is harder to quantify.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Considering the (non-Dwight Howard) centers in the East, should Kendrick Perkins be seriously considered for an All-Star berth? If so, why is he usually left out of the discussion?
Zach Lowe, CelticsHub: I think he should be, for two reasons. First, he's having a great season. He leads the league in field-goal percentage, he is approaching Garnett in terms of his defense and his mobility has improved so much that he is a threat to score on screen/rolls. His plus/minus numbers (see here and here, for instance) are off the charts. His PER is 17.6. That's pretty damn solid.
Second, the East isn't exactly teeming with quality big guys. After Howard, the next tier of centers looks like this: Brook Lopez, Perk, David Lee (not a real center, by the way), Al Horford, Andrew Bogut, Joakim Noah, Andrea Bargnani. You could make an argument that Perk is the best player among those guys. I'm not saying you'd be right. But you can craft a plausible argument.
I'm aware that the coaches do not have to select a true center to back up Howard; they are entitled to pick a power forward for the back-up center spot if they think it better suits the team.
But the East isn't overflowing with quality fours, either. KG will get voted in. After him, you've got Chris Bosh, Josh Smith and...?
Those two guys certainly deserve to make it, as do a bunch of small forwards. So Perk is probably out. But it wouldn't be catastrophically ridiculous if he got in.
Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Who gets the first technical foul?
Zach Lowe, CelticsHub: The smart money is always on Sheed. The guy has no self control. I think he might actually be losing his mind. He now yells "Ball Don't Lie!" even after obvious and physical Celtic fouls.