No Rondo, no Rose, no problem - five things to watch for in tonight's Celtics/Bulls game

The Celtics host the Bulls tonight at the Garden (7:30 tip), in the 4th and final meeting between the clubs this season. So far this year the Bulls have won 2 of the 3 match-ups, including the only game in Boston. Here's what rounds 1-3 have looked like.

Nov. 12th: Celtics 101, Bulls 95 - Celtics win in Chicago behind Rajon Rondo's near triple-double (20 points, 10 assists, 9 boards). Luol Deng goes for 27 and 10 in a losing effort.

Dec. 18th: Bulls 100, Celtics 89 - Rondo again puts up big numbers (26 points, 8 assists), but this time the Bulls win easy behind Deng and Carlos Boozer (21 points each), and a huge performance by their bench (outscored the C's reserves 37-16)

Jan. 18th: Bulls 100, Celtics 99 - Ugh. Almost a month later this one still hurts. The Celtics fell to the Bulls in overtime on a last second Marco Belinelli floater, only after a terrible jump ball call allowed the Bulls to send the game to OT. This was the 2nd loss in a row for the C's during a losing streak that would eventually reach 6.

As you can see, two of the three match-ups have been close, which is nothing new for these teams as they are similarly coached teams (Doc vs. Thibs), and know each other extremely well. As for tonight's game - expect another close one. Here's a few things to watch for.

1. Big impact on the standings - This isn't so much something to watch for on the court, but in the ever-so-important standings department. Chicago enters the game at 30-21, three full games ahead of the Celtics (27-24). The Bulls and Celtics are two of five Eastern Conference teams currently within 3.5 games of one another for the 3 through 7 seeds, and with playoff positioning starting to become something to watch, this is a big match-up. If Chicago wins, they would be four games up on the Celts, and own the tiebreaker. While the Celtics could head into the break within two games of home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs should they beat the Bulls.

2. No one left to play point - Celtics! Bulls! Rondo! Rose!

Or not. Unfortunately the ever growing plague of ACL injuries has gotten both franchises star point guards, robbing us of this great match-up. D-Rose is on one end of the rehab schedule (while he says he's "nowhere close to a return", I see that as simply trying to curb expectations), while Rondo is on the other (literally had the surgery yesterday), so tonight neither will be in the line-up. Bulls back-up PG Kirk Hinrich is also injured, leaving Chicago with Nate Robinson as the starter, and no true back-up.

For the Celtics, not only are they without Rondo, but they are also beginning life without Leandro Barbosa, meaning that they have just three guards on the roster. The Celtics guard situation is desperate enough to where they are considering a reunion with Sebastian Telfair. Not a good place to be.

3. C's going big - Playing off of item #2, expect the Celtics to go big tonight. Two reasons for this - 1. Most of their roster flexibility is in the form of big men (KG/Bass/Wilcox/Collins/Melo comprise half of their roster), and 2. The Bulls bigs beat the crap out of the Celtics last time they played. I would be mentally prepared for at least 10 minutes of COLLINS TIME, and an increase in minutes for Wilcox (this I definitely support). Let's just pray that we don't see Fab on the court, as that means someone else's ACL has exploded.

4. Pierce vs. Deng - Luol Deng is the rare of combination of size (6'8"), and athleticism, that gives Paul Pierce fits. Taking a look at the numbers, Deng has done a better job of anyone in bottling Pierce up. Don't believe it? Let's take a look.

Pierce vs Chicago since 2004 (when Deng entered the league) - 33 games, 18.5 PPG, 42.0% shooting
Pierce vs everyone else since 2004 - 21.1 PPG, 45.9% shooting

So Deng lowers Pierce's scoring by about two and a half points, and lowers his FG% by four percentage points. A definite impact, but nothing huge. However - as Pierce has gotten older, the effect Deng has on him as gotten bigger. Let's take a look at the past three seasons.

Pierce vs Chicago since 2010 - 11 games, 14.6 PPG, 38.6% shooting
Pierce vs everyone else since 2010 - 19.0 PPG, 46.0% shooting

This time Deng is taking about four and a half points off his scoring average, and lowering his shooting percentage by seven and a half percentage points. Major impact.

It will be interesting to see if Pierce comes out hot tonight considering Deng was chosen for the All-Star game over him, despite Pierce having better overall numbers.

5. Bench battle - Something else to watch tonight is how well each teams bench plays. Well, what's left of the benches anyways. The C's bench is really down to three players (Terry, Green, Wilcox), plus a small dose of Collins, while Chicago is down to three bench players that get regular time as well (Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Belinelli).

Boston's bench enters the game #16 in the NBA in scoring (link for NBA bench stats), at 33.6 points a game, but that number has jumped to over 41 PPG over their last 10 games. Chicago's bench is just 23rd in the league in scoring, and with Nate Robinson in the starting line-up, they are stretched even thinner.

Bench play is more of an issue for the Celtics, as they would rather avoid big minutes for Pierce and Garnett, than the Bulls, who don't seem to care how many minutes Deng, Boozer and Noah pile up.

It's the last game before the break for both teams, so expect both of them to come out with energy, knowing that a five day break is in store as soon as the final whistle blows.

Predictions are stupid, but I like the Celtics in a close game, with neither team breaking the 100 point mark (I'll say 94-92 C's).

Follow Mike on twitter - Mike_Dyer13