4/6 Game Preview: Pelicans at Celtics
With their place in the postseason assured, the Boston Celtics are now focusing on making sure they have home-court advantage for the opening round.
The Celtics are locked in an highly competitive race for that reward and will try to take advantage of back-to-back home games against eliminated teams, beginning Wednesday night against the severely short-handed New Orleans Pelicans.
Boston (45-32) didn't have a letdown after ending Golden State's NBA-record 54-game home win streak Friday, topping the Los Angeles Lakers 107-100 two days later. Isaiah Thomas scored 26 points and Jae Crowder added 22 as the Celtics clinched a playoff berth in the finale to a five-game Western trip.
"That's what you want, to give yourselves a chance, and the only way you get a chance is to make the playoffs," coach Brad Stevens said. "It's been a very focused group."
Boston is in a virtual tie with Miami for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home court for the first round. The Celtics currently hold the edge because they have won each of their two matchups with the Heat. Both teams are just one game ahead of sixth-place Charlotte and one-half game behind Southeast Division-leading Atlanta.
The Celtics will face each of those teams in their last three games, with the matchups against Charlotte and Miami at home. First, they'll try to pad their lead on a top-four spot while prevailing in visits from New Orleans and Milwaukee.
Boston won't have Evan Turner in the lineup against the Pelicans (29-48) because of a left eye abrasion. The swingman, averaging 10.5 points, had a combined 38 in his past two games.
Avery Bradley is expected to return after missing Sunday's game for personal reasons.
"This is part of our journey, continuing to play our best basketball as we hit the home stretch. Obviously, we're going to do it without Evan, which is a challenge for our team because Evan brings a lot to the table," Stevens said. "We'll have to have other guys step up."
New Orleans is well-acquainted with injuries and used eight players in their rotation at league-worst Philadelphia. Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday are among their notable players missing.
The Pelicans' only starter averaging more than 7.6 points Tuesday was Tim Frazier (13.5), who was signed March 16. The 76ers earned a 107-93 victory against their depleted opponent and reached 10 wins, ending the possibility of matching their NBA-worst 9-73 record from 1972-73.
"We don't have any excuses," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "You have to make do with what you have. There's no sympathy in this league."
New Orleans had won three of its previous four despite its bevy of absences, with the only loss coming at San Antonio last Wednesday. Frazier had a combined 36 points in the two games before Tuesday's loss and had 12 on 4-of-12 shooting in his fifth career NBA start, also his first since Dec. 21 while with Portland.
Boston has won three in a row over the Pelicans and came away with a 111-93 victory at New Orleans on Dec. 7.
Thomas has shot a combined 17 of 26 in his past two matchups, including 8 for 10 from beyond the arc, while totaling 49 points.