Welcome to the Garden …

Welcome to the Garden, where the Boston Celtics (58-19) will take on the New Jersey Nets (32-45) at 7:30 p.m.

Has there ever been a 58-19 team, that also happens to be the defending NBA champion, with less hype than this Celtics team? The Celtics, who hold a one-game lead over the Magic for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, play three of their last five games of the regular season at home. It certainly looks like they have a chance to wrap up that No. 2 spot, starting with a game against a non-playoff contender tonight.

Kevin Garnett, Leon Powe, and Brian Scalabrine won’t play tonight, but all are expected back near playoff time. If those players are reasonably healthy for the postseason, what you’ve got is essentially the same team as last year’s champions, only with more experience. Glen Davis and Powe are much-improved from last season. Garnett will be rested. Stephon Marbury is by all accounts an upgrade from Sam Cassell. The Celtics will miss P.J. Brown, but Mikki Moore can come close to his production. James Posey’s loss will be felt, to be sure, but improvements in other areas should at least give the Celtics as much of a chance as any other team in contention.

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Observational rant aside, tonight’s game should be another chance for Davis, Moore, and Marbury to get some playoff preparation in. Rondo should have his hands full with Devin Harris. That matchup alone makes this game worth watching.

Tony Allen and Paul Pierce just wrapped up their pregame shooting routines. Allen had a little fun with colleague Marc Spears a moment ago, performing some dance moves behind Spears as he was filming a stand-up on the court. Besides that it’s been business as usual here.

The locker rooms open in a bit, We’ll be back soon with some news and notes from the players.

*Note: A couple readers pointed out that I had the wrong record for the Celtics. Thanks for the heads up.

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