After a long road trip and what felt like an equally lengthy hiatus, the Celtics will be back in action tonight against the Washington Wizards at TD Garden.
This one was supposed to be about the matchup between the top pick in last June’s draft, John Wall, and Rajon Rondo, but Wall missed Washington’s 109-94 win over the Toronto Raptors last night with a sprained foot, making it unlikely that he will be ready to go tonight (though he did make the trip to Boston, so there is a shot he plays). In his place, Gilbert Arenas started and provided some of his old magic with 20 points, seven boards and six assists to lead his team to its third victory over the season.
Before said win the Wizards had dropped four of their last five games, and a lot of it was due to sloppy basketball, as Washington “leads” the league with over 18 turnovers a game. The Wizards have also struggled on the glass (bottom five in rebounding and rebounding rate) and generally on the offensive end, where they are near the bottom in terms of offensive efficiency.
The Celtics, meanwhile, had to be happy to come back to Boston with a 3-1 record considering the level of competition they faced in their four-game road swing. The key will be to take that momentum (as opposed to rust) and not let Washington hang around.
What else should you watch for? Here’s three things.
1) The Return of Delonte West: Last we heard from the Celtics’ guard, he was punching out a teammate (Von Wafer). Before that he was in the news for his supposed liasons with Mrs. James. Now, Delonte West can finally have the headlines for playing in a real game.
All eyes will be on the Celtics guard in this one. Delonte is returning from his 10-game suspension and should immediately be slotted into the rotation for Doc Rivers’ club.
While we can’t know how much run he is going to get, no one should expect too much from his performance. West hasn’t played since the Celtics’ third preseason game on October 10th, missing the rest of the preseason with a back injury and then sitting out the last 10 games thanks to his suspension. While West has been practicing, it has certainly been awhile since he played in a real game.
Will Doc immediately give him minutes? I think he will at least get a look, though he certainly isn’t going to steal any from Wafer, because not surprisingly Wafer has barely played. So where will those minutes come from? Will Doc sit Nate Robinson at all, or will he give Paul Pierce and Ray Allen more rest? Allen has been playing a number of minutes with the second unit and has produced well in those spots, and Doc generally likes to keep one of that pair on the court with the second team as a stabilizer.
The tandem of West and Robinson looked solid in limited preseason action, but the truth is that this duo might have been just that—a preseason pairing. At one point I would have said that West could come replace a struggling Robinson, but Nate has picked up his game over the course of the last week and is playing his best ball of the season. So while the Celtics’ minutes situation is a little crowded, Doc will almost certainly create room for the talented West. Now let’s see if he can make his mark.
2) Layoff: Speaking of hiatuses, it’s been awhile since the Celtics played a game. The C’s had three deserved days off after their trip, but let’s see if that affects their games.
It should only help considering the myriad of nagging injuries players like Shaquille O’Neal and Rajon Rondo have been suffering. Of course, the Wizards have been plagued by their on injuries lately with a gimpy Andray Blatche (though you wouldn’t know it by his performance last night), a knee injury that has hampered Yi Jianlian (who probably will not play) and Wall’s aforementioned troubles.
3) Another test down low: The Celtics didn’t exactly pass the test of defending Memphis’ bigs with flying colors, and tonight comes another challenge in the form of Blatche and JaVale McGee. McGee leads the league in blocks and is a strong presence on the defensive end, while Blatche has blossomed as the go-to guy down low since Washington traded Antawn Jamison last season. He is currently averaging 17 points and eight boards a game.
Boston, of course, will be without Jermaine O’Neal for the foreseeable future, so it needs to watch the inside game on defense. But if Shaq keeps performing like he did against Memphis, it might not matter who the other team’s bigs are at all.