at WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Tip-off: Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
Can the Wizards continue to excel without John Wall in the lineup?
Since PG John Wall left the Wizards lineup for what is expected to be six-to-eight weeks with a left knee injury, Washington is 5-1 (5-1 ATS). So everything's going great, right? If Washington can stay afloat with Wall gone for an extended period, they figure to have a good shot at securing home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and perhaps even surpassing the flailing Cavaliers in the standings. But Wall seems bitter about the team and its success without him, and has already criticized more than one of his teammates on ESPN. It's a bad and embarrassing look for Wall, and one that could quickly destroy this team's already-fragile chemistry if it's not nipped in the bud soon. The Wizards host Boston on Thursday night, and the Celtics will be hungry for a win against an East playoff team after being blown out by Toronto on Tuesday. PG Marcus Smart is out after injuring his hand by punching a hotel wall recently, and PG Kyrie Irving appears to be playing below his usual level thanks to lingering injuries as the All-Star break approaches. Also of note: Either—or both—of these teams could be without a key player on Thursday if they make a deal before the trade deadline earlier that day.
Boston's Tuesday-night game in Toronto would have been an opportunity for the Celtics to prove themselves to be the best team in the East. Instead, they looked woefully unprepared for the Raptors. They trailed by 21 points at halftime and barely ever hinted at a comeback in the second half before losing 111-91 as five-point underdogs. Irving was back in the lineup for the first time after missing three games with a quad injury. He wasn't bad offensively with 17 points in only 22 minutes, but was clearly a step slower than his usual abilities. Not having to guard Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan on Thursday—or John Wall, for that matter—ought to make him look better. Irving played short minutes because he was being eased back from injury; the rest of the Celtics starters played short minutes because they were blown out. In 24 minutes, PF Al Horford had two points and four turnovers. In 21 minutes, SF Jayson Tatum had four points on 2-of-9 shooting. With the Celtics' usual offensive stars all having an off-night at once, they didn't stand much of a chance. SG Jaylen Brown was better, posting an 11 and 6 line on 4-of-5 shooting. Backup PG Terry Rozier has stepped up big-time with Smart and Irving missing time, and he was a lone highlight in Toronto with 18 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 24 minutes off the bench. The team recently agreed to terms with C Greg Monroe, and he could make his Celtics debut on Thursday.
With Wall out, the Wizards' premier scoring option becomes clear: SG Bradley Beal. Some may not realize, but he already was Washington's leading scorer this season by a significant margin—he's currently averaging 23.8 PPG while Wall was under 20. He played 41 minutes in a 115-102 loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday, scoring 30 points on 12-of-22 shooting. Wall's injury brings SF Tomas Satoransky off the bench and into the starting lineup, a move that has produced mixed results in the early going. Satoransky scored 19 points against Orlando last weekend, but only mustered six points in the loss to Philly. SF Kelly Oubre Jr. still comes off the bench, as he has established himself as one of the NBA's best sixth men this season. He's now played 30-plus minutes in two straight games, a number indicative of the increased role he's taking on with Wall sidelined. He had 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting (0-6 from three) against the Sixers. C Marcin Gortat was heavily featured in trade discussions evenly before he unwittingly antagonized Wall, and he's playing fewer minutes than he has in many years at the age of 33. PF Markieff Morris starts alongside him in the frontcourt, and he has played notably well in recent games.