Celtics

Celtics-Lakers preview: Barbosa rolling along

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Celtics-Lakers preview: Barbosa rolling along

BOSTON No matter if you're a Celtics fan or a die-hard lover of the Los Angeles Lakers, both teams have players who were seldom-used that are now benefiting from injuries and opportunities of late to play.

Few stick out more than Celtics guard Leandro Barbosa whose play in the fourth quarter on Wednesday was arguably the difference in the C's pulling out a 99-95 win at Toronto.

Barbosa had 14 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter on an array of drives to the basket and jumpers.

It is that ability to provide instant offense that makes Barbosa such an invaluable member of this squad, which will have an offensive lull or two every night.

"Barbosa is just a player," said Paul Pierce. "You can throw him out there pretty much with anybody. He knows how to score the ball, he knows how to play the game. He's so quick when he gets the ball in transition. He's so crafty . . . he can do so many things."

Which is why the Celtics felt they were getting a steal in landing him for the veteran's minimum.

And that's why Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, put to bed quickly the rumors floating about that Barbosa wanted to be released from his contract with the Celtics which later turned out to be something both Barbosa and Ainge denied.

"We love Leandro and what he brings to this team, obviously," Ainge told CSNNE.com. "But he knew that the opportunities he has had in the past, probably wouldn't be as plentiful here based on the players we have. You look at our roster, and we're really deep at his position. Having said that, he is still an important part of what we're doing here."

Especially now with Rajon Rondo (torn right ACL) out for the season.

"I just want to help the team win," Barbosa told CSNNE.com recently. "And when I get a chance to play, I want to play well. Scoring, passing, whatever it is Doc (Rivers) needs me to do, that's what I want to do. I just want to win, that's all."

He will get more opportunities to do just that in tonight's game against the Lakers who have knocked off the Celtics in each of their last three meetings.

Here are some key factors to pay attention to as the C's try to match their season-best winning streak of six against their cross-coastal rival.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With significant injuries hampering both the Celtics and the Lakers, veteran stars on both teams have stepped up their games, especially on the boards. Paul Pierce is averaging 10 rebounds per game in the last five without Rajon Rondo, while Kobe Bryant is averaging 7.5 rebounds per game in the Lakers' last six while both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have been hurting or out. Both Pierce and Bryant average just over 5 rebounds per game for their careers.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Earl Clark. Bass has become a more reliable rebounder as well as facilitator. Yes, "No Pass" Bass does in fact pass the rock every now and then. As for Clark, he has done a solid job as a starter for the Lakers. It will be interesting to see how he handles continuing to play well while trying to provide some of the production that the Lakers will surely lose with Pau Gasol out for at least a month with a foot injury.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry was one of the few Celtics players that didn't put up impressive numbers at Toronto on Wednesday. The C's will need a lift from someone not named Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce tonight. This would be a good night for the Jet to take off and have a big game.

STAT TO TRACK: The three-point shot has been a part of both Boston's and the Los Angeles Lakers' success of late, but in a different way. In the last five games, Boston has limited opponents to 5.2 threes made per game, the fifth-best mark in the league during that span. In that same period of time, the Lakers have connected on 8.2 threes per game, which ranks fifth in the league.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Heat in Miami. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Will Celtics be drained by emotional comeback win Monday in Dallas?

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

The Boston Celtics remain a team whose collective talents are far more valuable than their individual abilities.

But there are going to be nights when someone has to shoulder a larger burden of the team in order to win. More often than not, that “one” will likely be No. 11, Kyrie Irving. 

We saw in Dallas what can happen when Irving feels he has little choice but to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. 

The Celtics were desperate for a spark against the Mavericks and found it in Irving, who scored 47 points in leading the Celtics to a come-from-behind 110-102 overtime win. 

It remains to be seen if the Celtics will require a similar Herculean effort tonight when they take the Miami Heat with a chance to extend their winning streak to 17 straight. 

This team isn’t one to dwell on success in the past, even if the past was just 24 hours ago. But there’s no getting around how what happened on Monday night might impact what we see against the Heat. 

Boston expended a tremendous amount of energy in rallying from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter at Dallas, the kind of effort that may be difficult to replicate against a Miami team that you can count on to play hard from the opening tip to the final horn. 

Irving’s performance was one of the rare instances this season when Boston clearly could not have won without their top scorer having a big game. 

“When we needed it most, he made big shot after big shot,” said Al Horford. “He had such good rhythm, I was thinking, ‘just let him keep it going.’ He just kept being aggressive, taking really good shots. He recognized he needed to be extra aggressive, especially at the end and score the ball for us.”

Scoring could potentially be at a premium against Miami which allows 102.5 points per game which ranks ninth in the league in fewest points allowed. Also, the Heat will test Boston’s perimeter defenders. Miami comes into tonight’s game averaging 11.1 made 3-pointers per game which ranks ninth in the NBA. 

The Heat are led by Goran Dragic who is averaging team highs in scoring (18.3 points) and assists (4.7) this season. 

These two squared off earlier this season in Miami with the Celtics coming away with a 96-90 win as Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the way with 24 and 20 points, respectively. In that game, the Heat were without starting center Hassan Whiteside, who will be in the lineup tonight as the Heat try to bounce back after losing three of its last four games.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE