Preview: Wizards wrap back-to-back Sunday night in Boston
The Wizards are back in action Sunday night, taking on the Celtics at 7:00 P.M. in Boston. The game is the second outing of a home-road back-to-back for Washington, 24 hours after a 16-point win over Minnesota. Boston is coming off a day’s rest after defeating Indiana on Friday night.
TD Garden | 7:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Bradley Beal, G – Garrison Mathews, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Moe Wagner
Celtics: G – Kemba Walker, G – Jaylen Brown, F – Jayson Tatum, F –Daniel Theis, C – Tristan Thompson
Wizards: Davis Bertans (right knee soreness – available), (Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out), Ish Smith (right quadriceps strain – out)
Celtics: Jaylen Brown (left knee soreness – out), Romeo Langford (right wrist surgery rehabilitation – out), Marcus Smart (left calf tear – out)
Mathews making the most of starting role
Garrison Mathews has now started in nine consecutive games for the Wizards, and while his numbers may not jump off the box score, his presence on the court and his impact on winning are unmissable. Starting alongside a backcourt loaded with star power, Mathews is the tone-setter and fighter who also happens to shoot over 42.0% from 3-point range. In those nine games as starter, he’s averaging only 7.8 points, 2.3 rebounds in 18.0 minutes per game, but has drawn praise for his ability to be a star in his role and make the most of the minutes he’s given. Against the Timberwolves on Saturday, Mathews scored 18 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter, and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds.
“He’s just a young man that takes advantage of his opportunity,” Bradley Beal said of Mathews after Saturday’s win over Minnesota. “That’s all the NBA is…From the day he first got here on a two-way contract, being in the G League, coming up and playing with us – he’s seen the ups and downs. Now, he’s starting on our team. It’s proof of the effort and hard work that you continue to put in. And Coach rewards those things. When you have an opportunity, you seize it and you be ready every single moment you’re out there.”
Defense driving Wizards’ success
Washington’s run of seven wins in the last eight games began exactly two weeks ago with a 13-point win over the Celtics. The Wizards’ offense provided little to be excited about in that game: Bradley Beal scored his routine 30-plus points, but the team as a whole shot poorly and came in well below their season scoring average. The defense, however, played its best game of the season, holding Boston to 91 points, the first time this year they held an opponent under 100. Washington was particularly effective in slowing down Boston’s leading scorer, Jayson Tatum, holding him to six points on just 3-14 (.214) shooting. As a team, Boston shot 35.6% from the field and 25.7% from three. While the numbers haven’t been quite so jarring as they were in their last matchup with the Celtics, the Wizards’ defensive turnaround has undoubtedly been the foundation of their recent success. From the start of the season through February 13, the Wizards ranked 29th in the NBA with a 115.5 defensive rating. From February 14 through today – a stretch that has included wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets (twice), Blazers, Lakers and Timberwolves – the Wizards rank sixth in the NBA with a 108.9 defensive rating.
Scouting the Celtics
After starting the season 8-3, the Celtics have struggled. Since January 17, Boston is 8-14 and has fallen to sixth in the tightly packed Eastern Conference standings. Tatum and Jaylen Brown continue to lead the way for the Celtics, both averaging exactly 25.0 points per game on the season. Each has seen a decrease in production in February with Tatum averaging 23.5 points in 15 games and Brown averaging 22.2 points in 13 games. Brown (left knee soreness) will not play Sunday night against the Wizards.
The biggest wild card for Boston has been Kemba Walker, who has played just 17 games this season. The veteran point guard has been inconsistent in his time on the court, but has been more up than down as of late, finishing with a positive plus-minus in four consecutive games, including a 32-point, six-assist performance in Boston’s win over Indiana on Friday night in which he committed just one turnover. In the Celtics’ last matchup with the Wizards, he tied for the team lead with 25 points on 9-18 (.500) shooting.