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Robb: Rondo And Zeller Developing Chemistry In Starting Lineup

BOSTON (CBS) – Tyler Zeller made his first appearance in the Celtics starting lineup last Sunday, and after his recent performances, it's clear that he won't be leaving it anytime soon.

The third-year center capped a strong week with season-highs of 24 points and 14 rebounds in the Celtics' 113-96 blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night. The efficiency of Zeller's production stood out even more than the totals. The seven-footer hit 10 of his 11 shot attempts from the field, helping to raise his field goal percentage to 69 percent on the season, one of the highest marks in the league.

So how does Zeller continue to get so many quality shots around the basket? Look no further than his strong on-court pairing with point guard Rajon Rondo (16 assists against LA). Whether it's on the fast break or the pick-and-roll, the duo has complimentary skills that allow both players to shine against inferior defenses like the Lakers.

Rondo
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo against the Lakers. (Photo by Brian Babineau /NBAE via Getty Images)

After Friday's win, Brad Stevens spoke about both players' performances and the chemistry they're developing.

"I think, obviously, Tyler played at a really high level, and I felt Rondo was just so much more aggressive and comfortable being aggressive and that was great. Any time that he's probing like that, Tyler's going to roll to the rim and be available and Tyler's got that nice little flip shot at five or seven feet where he can shoot it with either hand he doesn't have to get all the way to the rim to finish. So Rondo looks for him and that's a good thing," Stevens said.

FINDING THE OPEN GUY

Rondo and Zeller have spent just limited minutes on the floor together throughout much of the year, especially since Zeller played with the second unit regularly at the beginning of the season. However, the big man is still ahead of the learning curve in his stints playing with one the best pass-first point guards in the league.

"It's just one of those things where the more I play with him the easier it gets," Zeller said of sharing the floor with Rondo. "Everybody knows he's a phenomenal passer, somebody that's going to find the right guy, the open guy and tonight it was me, other nights its been other guys so we just continue to work together and try to get somebody open on our team."

"He's comfortable," teammate Jared Sullinger said of Zeller. "It shows, he's rolling, he's learning how to play with Rajon that's the most important thing. When you got a passing guard like Rondo you got to learn where to get open, when he's going to pass it because you never know when he's going to pass it. Tyler is doing a great job."

COMFORT LEVEL

Zeller isn't the only one enjoying his easy looks at the basket. Rondo has also raved about the opportunity of playing with a guy like Zeller, since he has not had the luxury of a big man who thrives on rolling hard to the hoop on pick-and-rolls during his Celtics tenure. Playing with that kind of attacking center is helping Rondo wreak even more havoc against defenses than usual.

"He has great hands," the Celtics point guard said of Zeller. "He outruns his big every night on the floor, and I try to reward him when I get the chance. His hand-eye coordination is great, so I try to find him and get him the ball."

Zeller also played a season-high 31 minutes in the win Friday, continuing a steady trend of increased playing time since he's entered the starting lineup. Over the past week, Zeller is averaging 25 minutes per game, eight above his season average.

"Its great," Zeller said of the increased opportunity. "Anytime you get minutes its great but at the same time you got to earn them, and I understand that. I've got to continue to work, continue to get better and just continue to grow on this."

"He's been great," Jeff Green said. "Blocking shots, rebounding, running the floor, setting great screens; he's been doing a great job with the starting unit making sure we all get great looks and he's doing his job."

With the Celtics back on the winning track, Rondo and Zeller will likely have plenty of time to build their chemistry on the floor in the coming weeks as they fight their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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