BOSTON After a ho-hum start, the Boston Celtics are making the Garden look more and more like the Jungle of past years when teams came in knowing that a loss, regardless of how well they played, was the most likely outcome.
Even though Boston's home record (17-8 at the Garden, 27-22 overall) is nothing to get overly excited about, they have reeled off six straight wins at home - their longest home winning streak of the season.
Tonight they face a Utah (27-23) team that has been a completely different - and very beatable - club when away from home.
In fact, the difference between Utah's record at home (19-6) and on the road (8-17) is the largest in the NBA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a team finished with that wide a disparity was the Jazz during the 2007-2008 season in which they were 37-4 at home and 17-24 on the road.
Being at home will certainly be a factor weighing in the C's favor tonight. Here we'll take a look at a few other factors that may have an impact on tonight's outcome as the C's seek a victory which will put them back in a tie with Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Celtics will do what they can to make the Jazz a jump-shooting team, which is clearly one of the team's biggest weaknesses. Utah has connected on 30.9 percent of their 3s this season, which ranks No. 29 in the NBA. When you take into account that Boston has the NBA's top 3-point shooting defense - opponents are shooting just 30.6 percent on 3s against the Celtics - it could be a long night for the Jazz if they're forced to play primarily from the perimeter.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Al Jefferson: Kevin Garnett has seen his share of centers with an array of offensive skills, but "Big Al" is right up there with the best of them. He has 21 double-doubles this year, and is averaging 19.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. For Garnett, it will come down to doing what he seems to do most nights - whatever is needed to win. Sometimes that's score, other times it is to rebound or defend. Try door No. 3 tonight. Because the one thing we all know about Al Jefferson he will get his shots up.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce has been on a wicked tear of late, and you can bet the Celtics will look for him early and often tonight. Look for Boston to try and get Pierce the ball on the elbow more or posting up against a smaller defender in C.J. Miles. Depending on how Utah responds to that, Pierce can play the role of low-post scorer or facilitator to the team's perimeter players as well as guards such as Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo cutting to the basket.
STAT TO TRACK: One of the byproducts of Boston playing more "small ball" units, is that they become quite vulnerable to points in the paint. Unfortunately for Boston, that plays right into one of Utah's biggest strengths. The Jazz are scoring 50.2 points per game in the paint, which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. The C's are literally at the other end of the points in the paint spectrum, averaging 34.5 points in the paint per game which is No. 29 - or second-to-last - in the NBA.