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Game #32 Preview: Celtics at Cavaliers

The Cavaliers enter the second half of the season merely one and a half games behind the Boston Celtics for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Do we want that playoff spot? Er...not really? But the point still stands. The Cavs seem to be rapidly improving while the Celtics seem to be rapidly getting worse. Regardless let's get in to the second half of the season!

Song Of The Day: It's Tricky - Run DMC

Throwback Tuesday, y'all.

Tonight's Overview:

Boston Celtics (15-17) at Cleveland Cavaliers (13-18)

As some of you may know, FearTheSword teamed up with TiqIQ to give away two tickets to this game. All you had to do was go to follow the links and directions that I gave and you had a chance to go see Kyrie and company take on the Celtics. TiqIQ selected a winner and sent them the tickets, but have no fear, we'll be doing this again relatively soon. Here's a screenshot of the winning entry.

As a matter of fact, I'll have another contest soon in which you can win some pretty awesome Cleveland sports themed shirts. So, if you missed out on the chance to go see the Cavs or just don't live anywhere near the Q, there will be a chance for you to win something in the coming days.

Alright, back to the preview...

So the Cavs and the Celtics split their two games the last time that they played. In both games, Anderson Varejao was a total beast. He recorded a 20-20 in the second game (a loss) and grabbed several key offensive rebounds in the first game (Kyrie's game-winner). Unfortunately, we won't have Andy tonight because he's still out with a broken wrist. With Varejao in the lineup, the Celtics really have no chance of keeping up on the glass. Kevin Garnett is pretty washed up and the corpse of Jermaine O'Neal shouldn't pose too many problems. When Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden replace Andy, that's when it gets ugly. Suddenly our biggest advantage becomes an area of weakness.

If you recall, Alonzo Gee posed all sorts of problems for Paul Pierce in the previous meetings. He forced Pierce into some sloppy turnovers and didn't really let him get into a rhythm. That's what happens when you put a crazy athletic wing player on someone who is much older and slower. Pierce is still a really solid player, but Gee has the physical abilities to make up for lack of skill. I expect Gee to have another solid defensive game against the Celtics best scoring threat.

John will get upset if I don't mention Ray Allen, so I will. He's also getting old, but he's in incredible shape. As you know, I am essentially infatuated with the shooting guard out of Florida, Bradley Beal. Various scouts compare him to a young Ray Allen and while we will not be seeing a young Ray Allen tonight, you might get a sneak preview at what the tail end of Beal's career could look like, you know, once he's all washed up. (You guys think that was enough to make John really mad? Yeah, probably).

*Obligatory comment about wanting to see Manny Harris play*

Here are some questions that I asked Gethin Coolbaugh from SBNation Boston before tonight's game:

1. Give me a prediction and briefly say why.

2. Where do you think Irving ranks among point guards in the NBA right now?

3. Where do you stand on the issue of trading Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, or both? (and briefly why)

1. On year ago, this was a game that I couldn't see the Celtics losing. Alas, here we are and the Celtics have already lost to the Cavs this season. That goes to show that no opponent is an "easy win" for the Celtics anymore. It's just a sign of the time. Hey, we had a good run. Time to look ahead to the future. As for this game, I still believe that the Celtics will win, but it won't be easy. The Cavs have some good pieces, led by Kyrie Irving. It's a game that the Celtics really need to win to get themselves back on track, but make no mistake, they certainly could lose it. However, I think the Big Three know what's at stake, and with Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox likely back in the fold, it should be a C's win. I'll say Celtics 96, Cavaliers 86.

2. Irving doesn't get the credit he deserves, mainly because he's in Cleveland. Irving is practically a shoe-in for the Rookie of the Year award and is outperforming expectations in his first season, at least in my eyes. Don't get me wrong, I thought he would be good -- there's a reason that he was the No. 1 overall pick. Still, what he has done is really, really impressive. Averaging 18 points and 47 percent shooting is impressive for anyone, let alone a rookie. Right now, I think Irving would rank in the top 10 for point guards, probably in the lower half. The sky is the limit for him, though, and Cavs fans should be very pleased with what they've seen for him.

3. The thought of trading Paul Pierce makes me sick to my stomach. Granted, I'm a lifelong Celtics fans and grew up loving Pierce and everything he brings to the table. Pierce is one of the few sports lifers left in all of sports. He's a Celtic, period. Seeing him elsewhere would be sad to me. There are so few players who stick it out anymore -- Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter and so on. The fact that guys like Pierce have stayed in one place for all of these years is admirable and has boosted their legacy. Pierce should be rewarded for his loyalty and welcomed back for as long as he wants to be here. However, this is a business, and Danny Ainge has to put business before loyalty. On Rondo, I like him as a player, but the attitude has to change. If you can get a player of equal value or greater in return for him (and no, Pau Gasol doesn't fit into that category), then I would be fine with moving him. But you shouldn't trade Rondo just to start over or "blow it up" like everyone is calling for. Rondo isn't the key to winning another title, but he is an important piece to build around.

Key Matchup:

Rajon Rondo vs. Kyrie Irving

Irving's scoring efficiently has taken a hit in recent weeks. It was probably unfair to expect a rookie point guard to have one of the most efficient seasons in NBA history, but he's still playing very well, regardless. He'll have his hands full tonight, however, as Rondo is generally regarded as one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. (I tend to disagree with this notion, but it's definitely up for debate.) With Varejao out, Irving is undoubtedly the best player in the Cavs lineup, so much of this game will depend on how he plays. Rondo is a skilled point guard (who I, again, believe is quite overrated) that doesn't look to score all that often. He's more of a facilitator type, which is just something to take note of. When Kyrie is guarding him, he needs to know that Rondo's main goal is not to drive to the basket. Oh, and for the love of Shammgod, don't fall for that stupid fake behind-the-back pass -- he never makes that pass, it's always a fake.

Fear The Sword's Fearless Predicition:

I really think the loss of Varejao is the deciding factor. He was such a nightmare on the boards for Boston earlier this season, and now he's gone. His replacements are Hollins and Erden. Seriously. I just feel wrong predicting a win when I know that Hollins will be in the game. Celtics win 93-87.