Play-In Preview: Celtics vs. Wizards

The NBA regular season is officially in the books, and now the Boston Celtics will have to fight for their lives to get into the Playoffs.

The seventh-place C’s (36-36) will host the eighth-place Washington Wizards (34-38) Tuesday night in a play-in game, with the winner advancing to the first round to face the second-place Brooklyn Nets. The loser, meanwhile, will advance to a second, do-or-die play-in game against the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between ninth-place Indiana and 10th-place Charlotte for a chance to play the first-place Philadelphia 76ers.

Tuesday will mark the fourth matchup between Boston and Washington this season, though much has changed since their last battle on Feb. 28 when the C’s captured the regular-season series at 2-1. To get you up to date, we’ve highlighted some of the trending storylines heading into this all-important matchup.

Momentum: Celtics Looking to Build, Wizards Seeking to Maintain

Washington’s playoff chances seemed bleak a month and a half ago, after compiling a 17-32 record through April 5. But since then, the Wizards have been on the second-hottest tear in the NBA, winning 17 of their last 23 games to comfortably secure a spot in the play-in round.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have been trending in the opposite direction, having lost nine of their last 13 games. However, Boston’s players aren’t concerned with their recent struggles, as they noted how their team now has a clean slate and an opportunity to build momentum heading into the playoffs.

“It’s 0-0,” C’s guard Marcus Smart said following Monday afternoon’s practice. “Everybody gets an opportunity to start over and a fresh new playing field. We’ve got to go out there and take advantage of it.”

C’s Should Be at Near-Full Strength

One factor that could help Boston take advantage of this play-in game is that its roster should be almost at full strength. Jaylen Brown, who underwent season-ending wrist surgery last week, is the only player expected to be sidelined. That’s great news for Boston, considering how every one of its top seven players had graced the injury report at some point over the past week.

The only other player who could potentially miss the game is Robert Williams (turf toe), but he is listed as “probable.” As such, Boston should be the closest it has been to full strength all season.

Beal the Real Deal vs. Boston

Although Boston should be near full strength, missing Brown alone could open up the door for Bradley Beal to have a massive scoring performance. Beal averaged 40.7 points per game during the three matchups with Boston, marking his highest scoring average against any opponent this season. In the one matchup that Brown missed on Feb. 28, Beal logged a whopping 46 points, despite the Celtics sneaking away with a one-point win.

The one disadvantage that Beal has heading into tonight is that he is dealing with a hamstring injury, so he may not be as explosive as he was in past matchups.

Westbrook Cooking

Even if Beal isn’t at 100 percent, Boston will still have to try to contain the hottest player in the Eastern Conference in Russell Westbrook. The recently crowned all-time triple-double king has been on an absurd tear of late, as he averaged 26.3 points, 16.1 rebounds, and 13.8 assists in May, for which he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month.

Westbrook hasn’t had great success against Boston this season, as he has put up 16.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game while shooting 35.1 percent from the field, including 25.0 percent from 3-point range. However, that all took place before Brown’s injury and before Westbrook became fully acclimated to his new team, so the C’s could see a totally different beast Tuesday night.

Added Impact of Fournier, Gafford

While the Wizards don’t have to worry about facing Brown, they will have to deal with Boston’s new wing addition in Evan Fournier, who was acquired at the trade deadline following the last meeting between these two teams. After a rocky start with the Celtics, Fournier has been red-hot of late, averaging 19.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists over his last seven outings. He may not have the All-Star impact of Brown, but he will still be a handful to deal with from a scoring and playmaking standpoint..

On the other side, Washington will get to show off its deadline acquisition in Daniel Gafford. The Wizards had been in need of some size up front, and the 6-foot-10 center has given them just that while averaging 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds off the bench. His presence should help give Washington a little extra physicality, as Boston has generally dominated the Wizards on the boards this season.

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