In July, the Nets and Celtics agreed on a deal that sent future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, along with Jason Terry, to Brooklyn in exchange for five players and three future first-round draft picks. It was expected that the Nets would become a powerhouse, while the Celtics would be in rebuilding mode.
However, few would've expected the two teams to be in the respective positions they find themselves in today, as the two teams get set to square off for the first time this season. It's the Celtics, not the Nets, who sit atop the Atlantic division with a 10-12 record. It's the Nets, not the Celtics who enter tonight fourth in the division at 6-14.
This Celtics team is off to a surprising start even without star point guard Rajon Rondo, who has not yet played this season as he recovers from a torn ACL in his right knee.
Boston's offense is led by fifth-year pro Jeff Green, who's averaging 16.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. However, it's been third-year guard Jordan Crawford (#27) who's stepped up lately, as the 25-year-old has averaged 23.3 points per game on 61.0% shooting over the last three games.
Last season, the Nets won three of the four matchups between the two division rivals, but clearly both teams are much different from the teams they were last season. The Nets have lost six straight at the Barclays Center, their longest home losing streak since moving to Brooklyn. They'd obviously love to snap that streak tonight.
Key Matchup: Brook Lopez is coming off his best game of the season, and tonight he matches up with Celtics center Jared Sullinger, who is undersized compared to most NBA centers at just 6'9. The Celtics only have one player taller than 6'11 on their roster, 7'0 rookie center Kelly Olynyk, and Olynyk is day-to-day with an ankle injury.
It could be a great opportunity for Lopez, coming off a strong performance, with the chance to face an undersized Celtics front court. Expect the Nets to attack the paint as much as they can on offense. It'll be interesting to see how Boston's rookie head coach Brad Stevens counters that defensively if Lopez starts to get hot again.
Player to Watch: The former Celtic Paul Pierce is a wild card, as he is adamant about playing tonight against his former team despite breaking his hand less than two weeks ago, an injury that was supposed to keep him out much longer than he apparently wants it to. Pierce will try to give it a go, and he may come off the bench for Brooklyn if he's active tonight, something he's only done three times in his career.