W2W4: Celtics vs. Cavs (Game 41 of 82)
* HOW'S IT GOING TO BE?: Celtics coach Doc Rivers laid down the gauntlet after Sunday's loss in Detroit, noting his team prefers the easy way out. With his postgame rant, Rivers essentially challenged his team to change its ways or suggested Boston's decision-makers will change the roster. Celtics players seemingly have to respond on Tuesday night and show they can play with more energy and consistency. If they don't, they might not be playing together much longer.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The Cavaliers rank among the league's bottom-feeders on both offense (0.877 points per play, 27th overall) and defense (0.961 ppp, 29th), according to Synergy Sports data. Without Anderson Varejao, the Cavs have leaned heavy on Tristan Thompson defensively, but three of the team's five most-used defenders rank among the worst in the league in Alonzo Gee (1.023 ppp, 7th percentile), Tyler Zeller (1.011 ppp, 8th percentile), and Dion Waiters (1.114 ppp, 1st percentile). Offensively, it's Irving (0.959 ppp, 72nd percentile) or bust. Even without Varejao, the Cavs remain a dangerous team on the offensive glass thanks to Thompson, Zeller, and Gee.
* WILL DOC TINKER WITH THE ROTATION?: If the Celtics start slow, will Rivers make changes on the floor? Boston players were seemingly settling into defined roles during a six-game winning streak, but now you have to wonder if Rivers would shuffle the deck to mask those that are particularly underperforming. During his postgame rant on Sunday he noted, "I've got to either find the right combination, the right guys, or we’re going to get some guys out of here." Rivers never named names -- and probably because the whole team is guilty of not playing to its full potential -- but any rotation tweaks will give us a better idea of where his frustrations lie.
* IT DOESN'T GET EASIER FROM HERE: The Celtics have had a propensity of playing down to the level of their competition -- and often losing (see recent defeats versus New Orleans and Detroit). Cleveland has endured its lumps and is a young and beatable team. Boston's got a monster stretch looming that makes taking care of business on Tuesday even more important. Thursday brings a national-TV rematch with the Knicks before a quick trip to Atlanta on Friday. Boston then returns home to host the rival Heat on Sunday at TD Garden -- that's three East playoff foes in four days and tough turnarounds for the final two games due to travel and tip-off times.
Play Podcast NFL Films' Greg Cosell talks about the Ravens' improvement, the impact of Rob Gronkowski's injury, the Broncos' pass defense, whether Kirk Cousins is a better QB than Robert Griffin III and more.
Play Podcast Mark Schlereth talks about which outcomes could surprise him this weekend between the Patriots and Ravens. Why the Chiefs defense isn't as great as we thought it was, if Mike Shanahan could be throwing his final games in Washington and much more.
Play Podcast Ravens QB Joe Flacco talks about his health, Baltimore's win over the Lions, his team's four-game winning streak, preparing to face the Patriots, the keys to success in December and more.
Play Podcast Super Bowl XXXV champion Brian Billick dishes on Tom Coughlin's future with the Giants, the state of the NFC North, Patriots-Ravens and more.
Play Podcast ESPN NFL analyst Jeff Saturday dishes on what Peyton Manning is like, Patriots-Ravens, the Cowboys' game management during the Packers' comeback and more.
Play Podcast ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski weighs in on Packers-Cowboys, the scrutiny of Tony Romo, Marc Trestman's decision to start Jay Cutler, Patriots-Dolphins, the Chiefs' offense and more.
Play Podcast ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter covers the criticism of Tony Romo after the Cowboys' loss to the Packers, the Giants' struggles, Tom Coughlin's future in New York, the state of the AFC and more.