BOSTON CELTICS at WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
Despite recent struggles, Washington hopes it's building towards a playoff upset.As long as the NBA playoffs are—they're really quite long—they're not long enough to account for the full timetable for Celtics PG Kyrie Irving's return to action, which sits at four to five months after the superstar guard had knee surgery this past Saturday. Without him, SG Gordon Hayward and, potentially, PG Marcus Smart for the playoffs, Boston seems like a longshot to get to the conference finals, and possibly vulnerable to an upset in the first round. One team that could pull that upset is Washington, which will indeed play the Celtics in the conference quarterfinals if they finish the regular season seventh in the East. The Wizards have struggled mightily lately, losing four in a row and five of their last six despite reintroducing star PG John Wall into the lineup after he missed months with an injury. There's been bad blood between these two teams for years now and, despite significant roster turnover in Boston, a series would bring out plenty of intensity from an often listless-looking Wizards squad. The Celtics are locked into the two seed in the conference, but on Tuesday Washington will still be playing for improved seeding. C Ian Mahinmi is questionable to play for the Wizards.
Boston has lost three of its last four, most recently taking an L at home to the Atlanta Hawks by a 112-106 score. Surrendering a 13-point fourth quarter lead to the Hawks would never be good news, but Boston had a pretty good excuse even beyond its extensive injuries: Brad Stevens rested SG Jaylen Brown, SF Jayson Tatum, PG Terry Rozier and C Al Horford for the entire fourth quarter due to the team's already locked-up playoff position. Stevens may choose to do the same thing on Tuesday, or he may play the quartet their normal, full-speed minutes so as to avoid rust, or he may rest them even more. Tatum is Boston's best one-on-one scorer, and Rozier has had a breakout year with strong shooting and scoring numbers, plus strong defense and an above-average rebounding ability for his position. Horford is the team's best remaining player after the injuries, but his role won't change no matter how many guys get hurt—he sets fantastic picks and makes savvy passes, and anchors the defense. Brown isn't a consistent high-level scorer from game-to-game, but he probably will be by this time next year (if given the opportunity). He had 24 points against Milwaukee last Tuesday and 32 against Chicago on Friday. C Aron Baynes started alongside those four on Sunday and played in the fourth quarter, although he played the fewest minutes of the starters. SF Semi Ojeleye, C Greg Monroe, PG Shane Larkin and SG Jabari Bird each played 20-plus minutes off the bench, and Monroe scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Stevens sat PF Marcus Morris for the whole game, but he'll be one of Boston's most critical players in the playoffs. Don't be surprised if he's their leading scorer in more than one of their postseason contests.
Washington's most recent loss also came to the lowly Hawks, although they were playing without Wall, who was resting on the back end of a back to back. Wall has only played three games (and sat two) since his initial return to action on March 31, and signs have been more encouraging than not. He played by far his best game of the three on Thursday in Cleveland when he scored 28 points and dished out 14 assists. Unfortunately, the game's final 10 seconds featured Wall badly missing a jumper and making an ugly turnover in a close loss to the Cavs. There are serious questions about Wall in relations to the Wizards' overall team chemistry, and endings like that won't help rebuild any of those broken bonds. SG Bradley Beal, the team's obvious go-to option when Wall is out, scored 32 points against Atlanta on 12-of-24 shooting. It was a busy 40 minutes, and coach Scott Brooks may look for some opportunity to rest him a bit more with the playoffs coming up; seeding is only so important. PF Markieff Morris is generally a less impactful player than his twin in Boston, but watching the two go at it on Tuesday will be a treat, and it would be a highlight of the first round if the Celtics and Wizards go against each other in the postseason. Morris made it only eight minutes against the Hawks before being ejected. SF Kelly Oubre Jr. pitched in 13 points and seven boards off the bench, but was a team-worst minus-19 on the floor in part to his 3-of-13 shooting. SF Otto Porter Jr. had 10 and 7 in a typically quiet performance. He was better in Cleveland, where he turned in 18 and 8 on 8-of-13 shooting.