The compressed NBA schedule following the lockout figured to be hard on a Boston Celtics team largely built around three aging veterans. Playing without one of them is making it even harder than expected.
Paul Pierce will be sidelined again Wednesday night when the Celtics visit the New Orleans Hornets hoping to avoid a third consecutive loss to open the season.
Pierce, Boston's leader in points per game each season since 2000-01 - including 18.9 last season - has missed the first two games of 2011-12 with a heel injury and will not return for the finale of the Celtics' road trip.
Without Pierce, the Celtics (0-2) have dropped their first two games for the first time since bringing Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen together in 2007 to create the "Big Three" that gave the franchise its 17th championship in 2008. They opened 0-3 in 2006-07.
In its Christmas Day opener, Boston overcame a 17-point deficit and took a fourth-quarter lead before falling 106-104 at New York. The Celtics nearly erased a 20-point deficit at Miami on Tuesday night, pulling within three with 1:22 remaining, but the rally fell short again as Pierce watched the 115-107 defeat from the bench.
"We just have to settle in on both ends of the floor," said Allen, who led the Celtics with 28 points and made six 3-pointers against the Heat.
Point guard Rajon Rondo has been the biggest bright spot for the Celtics, averaging 26.5 points, 12.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds through the first two games. The Celtics reportedly offered Rondo to the Hornets before the season as part of a package for Chris Paul, but the Hornets eventually sent Paul to the Clippers for a package of young assets and draft picks.
While it will be hard to replace Paul, it looks like New Orleans got good value in return if Monday night was any indication. Eric Gordon, a significant piece of the trade, scored 20 points in his Hornets debut, making a 20-foot jumper with 4.2 seconds left to secure an 85-84 victory over Phoenix.
Gordon figures to be the primary focus of a New Orleans offense that also lost leading scorer David West to free agency.
"You put the ball in (Gordon's) hands and you tell him to go to work," coach Monty Williams said.
Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack, Paul's backup for most of last season but the presumed starter since the trade, will make his season debut against the Celtics. He was suspended for the opener for violating the league's conduct code in the offseason.
Allen averaged 19.0 points and shot 53.8 percent from the field as the Celtics split two games with the Hornets last season.
Gordon missed both of the Clippers' meetings with the Celtics in 2010-11 due to a wrist injury. Boston has held him to 9.0 points per game and 25.0 percent shooting in three career games.
New Orleans is attempting to open with two straight wins for the fifth time in six years. The Hornets started a franchise-best 8-0 in 2010-11.