Game Preview: Wizards at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The eight-game, two-week road trip that the Boston Celtics (25-22) eyeballed when they received their condensed 2011-12 NBA schedule is now over. It’s time to come home.

Boston fans will be afforded the opportunity to cheer on their team in person for the first time since March 9 when the Celtics return to TD Garden at 6 p.m. Sunday evening. Their opponent will be the new-look Washington Wizards (11-36), who added one of the top centers in the league, Nene, at this season’s trade deadline.

The acquisition of Nene is a storyline for the Wizards, but it is at the bottom of the totem pole on this night. Those who call New England their home are more concerned with the return of the Celtics.

Boston wrapped up its eight-game road trip with a loss to the 76ers Friday night in Philadelphia. That loss left the C’s with a 4-4 record on the trip, which is neither great nor terrible. The trip did prove costly, though, as three key players were injured in the final leg of the two-week voyage.

Ray Allen did not participate in Friday night’s loss to Philadelphia due to a sore right ankle and Avery Bradley sprained his left ankle during the loss. More importantly, and far more frightening, the Celtics lost swingman Mickael Pietrus after he crashed to the floor in the second quarter and was taken to a hospital on a stretcher.

“Things just happen in sports, and for the team that it happens to, it’s really tough,” Doc Rivers said Friday night. “Everything is going wrong right now. We have a resilient group. I am so proud of our team. We keep sustaining injuries, and guys are just trying to play and win.”

Rivers was proud of his players Friday night, but their resiliency could not overcome the scene they witnessed in Wells Fargo Center. Boston’s one-point lead that was owned when Pietrus went down eventually turned into a 17-point deficit and a 13-point loss. Thankfully, the team has had nearly 48 hours to move on from the incident and mentally prepare themselves for Sunday’s game.

There’s no doubt that playing in the serenity of TD Garden will help Boston’s players move on from Friday’s events. Rivers and his players will be elated to return to their homes, see their families and dress for Sunday’s game in their own locker room.

The same cannot be said for the Wizards. Washington will be dressing in the visitor’s locker room, and that is definitely not a friendly environment for its team. The Wiz carry a woeful 5-18 road record with them into Sunday’s game.

It does seem as though Washington is playing better since ridding themselves of a couple of personalities at the trade deadline and bringing in a veteran like Nene. The Wizards have been highly competitive in every game with their new center, winning once and losing the other three games by a combined 10 points.

Washington may not be an elite team, but it surely isn’t a pushover. Boston will have the crowd on its side for the first time in weeks, but it will also need to play well in order to grab its third win in four games.

’D’ Up Crawford

If you haven’t taken a close look at Jordan Crawford, you should. With Nick Young shipped out to Los Angeles to play with the Clippers, Crawford has taken over the reigns as Washington’s go-to scorer. He has played extremely well in that role.

Crawford is on a scoring streak that includes four consecutive games of at least 20 points. He has shot well in those contests, too, making 48.4 percent of his shot attempts despite averaging 16 shots a game over that span of games.

Crawford is a speedy guard with a scorer’s mentality. He will pull the trigger on shots from anywhere on the floor, so his defender must keep tabs on him all night long. This will be a tough matchup for whoever winds up guarding him, be it Allen, Bradley, Keyon Dooling or Sasha Pavlovic. If it’s Allen, it will be quite a show to watch these two scorer’s go at each other at both ends of the court.

Finally, a Break

It has felt as if the Celtics just can’t catch a break over the past few weeks. Their injury woes are troublesome, they were sent through the grind of an eight-game road trip, and it always seems as if they catch a tough opponent while playing in the second night of a back-to-back. Finally, on Sunday, the opponent will catch a tough break.

For the first time in a long time, Boston’s opponent, the Wizards, will be competing in the second night of a back-to-back while the C’s will be playing after an off day. Washington fell to the Hawks 95-92 Saturday night in Washington and then boarded a plane to Boston. The Wizards aren’t an old team by any stretch of the imagination, but these circumstances will surely be a slight advantage for Boston that it hasn’t experienced in a long time.

Who Plays for Boston?

As we already noted, the Celtics weren’t just shorthanded Friday night. They were shorthanded from being shorthanded.

Allen didn’t play in Friday’s game due to ankle pain, Bradley went out with an ankle sprain and Pietrus went down with his head injury. That took three of Boston’s top five perimeter players out of the lineup.

If history tells us anything, it’s that ankle injuries can be overcome with just a bit of rest. That may mean that both Allen and Bradley will be on the court for Sunday’s game, but they’re likely to be game-time decisions. Pietrus, however, is a different story. His injury to the head and neck area must be treated with precaution and his return date is unknown at this time.

The Celtics were already shorthanded before these injuries took place, but now they are playing with an ultra-thin roster. Boston will be in much better shape to win this game if at least two of those three players are available to play against the Wizards.