Event: Portland Trail Blazers (19-20) vs. Boston Celtics (20-18); NBA Regular Season, Game 39.
Date/Time: Friday, March 9, 2012.
Location: TD Garden (Capacity: 18,624), Boston, MA.
Broadcast Info: Friday's game between the Celtics and Blazers will be broadcast regionally on Comcast SportsNet New England, with Mike Gorman, Tommy Heinsohn and Greg Dickerson calling the action. In addition, the game can be heard on the WEEI Sports Radio Network, with Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell on the call.
Odds: Boston is a three-point favorite over Portland on Friday night.
Celtics Roster 2011-12: Ray Allen, Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Marquis Daniels,Keyon Dooling, Kevin Garnett, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Jermaine O'Neal, Sasha Pavlovic, Mickael Pietrus, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Greg Stiemsma,Chris Wilcox. Head Coach: Doc Rivers.
Blazers Roster 2011-2012: LaMarcus Aldridge, Luke Babbitt, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Camby, Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, Chris Johnson, Wesley Matthews, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla, Craig Smith, Nolan Smith, Kurt Thomas, Gerald Wallace, Elliot Williams. Head Coach: Nate McMillan.
Celtics And Blazers In 2011: Boston and Portland met once last season, with the Celtics escaping with a 99-95 win at TD Garden. Paul Pierce led the C's with 28 points and Rajon Rondo had 10 assists. Marcus Camby grabbed a game-high nine rebounds in the loss for Portland.
Last Time Out: The Celtics were trampled by the Philadelphia 76ers, 103-71, on Wednesday night in Philly. Paul Pierce scored 16 points to lead Boston, but it wasn't even close to enough. Philadelphia took control early and never let up, although the Celtics did narrow the gap slightly on several occasions. Evan Turner had 26 points to pace the Sixers.
Portland was also blown out in its last game, losing to the revamped Minnesota Timberwolves, 106-94, on Wednesday. Raymond Felton scored 23 and had nine assists and LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 points and seven boards. Gerald Wallace scored 13 points and had nine rebounds and nine assists in the Blazers' loss.
Statistics Central: Paul Pierce is the Celtics' leading scorer, averaging 18.3 points. Rajon Rondo averages a team-high 10.1 assists and 1.7 steals, Kevin Garnett averages 8.2 rebounds and Jermaine O'Neal averages 1.7 blocks. Boston ranks 26th in the league in scoring (90.5 PPG), 30th in rebounding (39.1 RPG), third in assists (22.7 APG) and third in points allowed (89.8 PPG).
LaMarcus Aldridge averages 21.6 points, Marcus Camby leads the team in rebounding (9.2 RPG) and blocks (1.5 BPG), Raymond Felton averages a team-high 6.3 assists and Gerald Wallace averages a team-best 1.5 steals. Portland ranks fifth in the league in scoring (98.1 PPG), 24th in rebounding (41.5 RPG), seventh in assists (21.9 APG) and 13th in points allowed (94.3 PPG).
Storyline: Boston and Portland are in similar situations, with each fighting for their postseason lives. At one game under .500 (19-20), the Blazers are in 11th place in the Western Conference and are 1.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff seed, despite being dead last (fifth) in their own division (Northwest). The Celtics, meanwhile, are currently the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but they don't have a lot of breathing room.
At one point, these two teams were serious threats, but both have had be defanged. For Boston, it has been a decline in talent from its veteran core that has caused its struggles. Portland's misfortune has been due to a spell of bad luck, as All-Star Brandon Roy was forced to retire due to degenerative knees and Greg Oden, the former No. 1 overall pick, has never been able to put together a healthy season.
It's certainly possible that both will make the playoffs. Contending is another story.
Players To Watch: As always, keep your eyes on the Big Four. When the Celtics are successful, the Big Four -- Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo -- are usually the reason. LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers' star, and should be able to take advantage of a sometimes porous interior Celtics defense. Craig Smith, a former Boston College star, and Chris Johnson, who played for Boston during a stretch last season, will make their returns to the area.
Prediction: Portland scores a lot more points than Boston does on average, but the Celtics have the upper hand on defense. That pairing should result in a relatively close game, but the Celtics understand the importance of this game before they head on the road for an eight-game West coast swing. Final Score: Celtics 93, Blazers 89.