The Celtics (46-21) will be without at least two starters and potentially three for this contest, which is less than ideal considering they are now four games behind the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division lead and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Boston’s starting backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown have been ruled for this game, with Irving possibly being out the next few games due to tendinitis in his left knee. Brown suffered a concussion in Sunday’s 99-97 loss to Indiana and is day-to-day. Starting power forward Al Horford is questionable for this game because of an illness.
Backup guard Marcus Smart is again sidelined with a thumb injury, which means Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin could be the starting guards if Stevens keeps Jayson Tatum at small forward. Rozier averaged 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists in his first three NBA starts earlier this season, highlighted by a triple-double against the New York Knicks on January 31 and a career-high 31 points versus the Atlanta Hawks two nights later.
Washington (38-30) have dropped back-to-back games and five of seven overall after a 116-111 home loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night. Markieff Morris had a season-high 27 points, but the Wizards were again pounded in the paint as Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 and ten rebounds as Washington yielded 64 points in the paint.
The Wizards have had their lead over Miami atop the Southeast Division cut to two games as they open a four-game stretch against teams fighting for position in the NBA playoff race. Washington, though, have won eight of their last ten road games, averaging 111.1 points and shooting 49.9 percent in that span.
Three keys to the game
Thumbs up or thumbs down for Smart? - The Celtics guard has averaged 10.8 points and 5.6 assists in eight games since the All-Star break as he has played through what the team is calling a sprained thumb. Smart is trying to get a second opinion on the injury to confirm if there is ligament damage and whether surgery is required, or whether he can let his thumb heal through rest. The timing is sub-optimal with Irving set to sit out the next few games, but a definitive diagnosis would probably be best for all parties.
140, it's more than a Twitter character count - That is also the staggering amount of points the Wizards have allowed in the paint in losing to the Heat and the Timberwolves the last two games. Tuesday night's loss to Minnesota is more forgivable since Towns is an All-Star, but Washington's defense had a systemic breakdown in the fourth quarter as Minnesota hit five 3-pointers and scored 34 points in erasing an eight-point deficit.
Rolling Rozier - Rozier's three starts vaulted his confidence and triggered a streak of 16 straight games scoring in double figures, which continues into this contest. He has averaged 15.4 points and 3.8 assists in that span, shooting better from 3-point range (45.7 percent) than overall (43.6).
Matchup to watch
SF Otto Porter vs SF Jayson Tatum - Porter has done his part carrying Washington's offense without injured point guard John Wall, averaging 17.5 points while shooting 54.2 percent in ten games. He also has pulled down 6.8 rebounds per contest in that span and been one of the few Wizards players to not get dragged down defensively as he is a net plus-44 in those games.
Without Irving and Brown and possibly Horford, Tatum likely will be the primary offensive option for the Celtics provided Rozier and Larkin run the offense and the ball does not stick in their hands. The rookie has gone 14 games since his last 20-point effort when he scored a season-high 27 versus Atlanta on February 2, but if the Celtics are to win this game, he may need to come close or even exceed that total.
Washington Wizards projected starting lineup
PG - Tomas Satoransky | SG - Bradley Beal | C - Marcin Gortat | SF - Otto Porter Jr. | PF - Markieff Morris
Boston Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Terry Rozier | SG - Shane Larkin | C - Aron Baynes | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Marcus Morris
Porter has exploited Tatum defensively in the two meetings this season, totaling 47 points and 17 rebounds. He has made six of ten from 3-point range and 16 of 28 overall. Porter has averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15 career games versus Boston, but he has hit 58.0 percent of his shots in those contests.
Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal may be well served giving up some of his shots to Porter considering he has gone 17 for 52 in the two games verus Boston while scoring 43 points. He did have nine assists in the most recent meeting, a 110-104 overtime loss at home February 4, but went seven of 27 from the floor.
Beal has averaged 25.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in the last five matchups between the teams and has made 37.8 percent of his 3-point shots.
Morris has been hit or miss against Washington this season, scoring two points in the first meeting while going one for seven from the field, but he did have 15 points and eight boards in the February win. Morris had 25 points and 11 rebounds in a game against the Wizards last season playing for the Detroit Pistons and has averaged 8.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16 games against them.
While Tatum has struggled to contain Porter, he has been steady offensively with 31 points in the two games while making ten of 18 shots. He scored 20 points in the first meeting between the teams and was held to 11 in the other.
The Celtics have been established as 1.5-point favorites, reflecting the fact the Celtics will be without at least Irving and Brown and potentially Horford. That may add to Boston's home struggles for bettors as they have covered just once in their last six games there.
The Wizards, though, have covered just once in their last ten trips to Boston, and their recent struggles have seen them go 1-3-1 against the spread in their last five games overall and are also 0-3-1 in their last four games when playing on the back end of consecutive nights.
Washington, though, have covered in five of their last six road games and are also 8-3 against the number in their last 11 contests when facing a team with a winning percentage above .600.
The over/under has yet to be established, but the over has been the hot play in this rivalry as it has hit in the last five games in Boston and gone 5-1 in the last six games between the teams overall.
While the Wizards can breathe easier Irving and Brown will not play in this game, there is absolutely no reason they should be complacent given their defensive shortcomings of late. Washington will be able to pack the paint and dare Boston to shoot over them, which means their points in the paint allowed total may finally drop to normal levels.
The decision to rest Irving for multiple games for the greater good of having him close to 100 percent for the postseason is an interesting gamble by the Celtics. It may be a concession of the Atlantic Division and the top seed in the East to the Toronto Raptors, but with a 6.5-game lead over the Indiana Pacers with 15 games left, Boston may be content to take their chances as the No. 2 seed knowing they have home-court advantage for two rounds and a chance they can avoid the Cavaliers until the conference finals.
The Wizards, though, need this game. Miami are breathing down their neck, and their chances of owning home-court advantage without the Southeast Division title are dwindling fast. Look for them to regroup and beat Boston by virtue of having more offensive firepower for a 104-97 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPN and also nationally in Canada on TSN 1/3. It will also be televised locally on NBC Sports Boston. Tip-off time is 8 pm EDT.
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