Preview: Wizards face Celtics in Play-In Tournament on Tuesday night
The Wizards take on the Celtics on Tuesday at 9:00 P.M. in Boston in the NBA Play-In Tournament. The winner will advance as the seven-seed and face the two-seed Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The loser of the game will play the winner of Tuesday’s other East Play-In game between the Pacers and Hornets for the eight-seed.
TD Garden | 9:00 P.M. | TNT & NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Raul Neto, G – Bradley Beal, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Alex Len
Celtics: G – Kemba Walker, G – Marcus Smart, F – Evan Fournier, F – Jayson Tatum, C – Tristan Thompson
Wizards: Deni Avdija (right ankle fracture – out), Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out), Raul Neto (left hamstring strain – available)
Celtics: Jaylen Brown (left scapholunate ligament surgery – out), Robert Williams III (left foot; turf toe – probable)
Wizards close season red-hot to earn Play-In berth
Since April 7, Washington has recorded a league-best 17 wins, climbing from 13th in the Eastern Conference up to 8th, capped by a thrilling win over Charlotte in the regular season finale. In that time, Bradley Beal put up 31.3 points per game, Russell Westbrook averaged 23.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 14.5 assists and the Wizards put up the seventh-best defensive rating in the league (110.5). The team’s turnaround, however, seemed to come as no surprise to anyone in the locker room. All season long, players and staffers stuck to the same mantra: get healthy, continue to compete and the results would come.
Now, the Wizards earned their way into the league’s first-ever Play-In Tournament, which pits seeds 7-10 against one another to determine the final two spots in the Playoffs. The tournament has been the center of conversation around the league for weeks, giving more teams a shot at postseason contention and forcing some higher-ranked teams (7-8) to do more to earn their postseason berth than they were asked to in prior years.
“It’s great for all of us,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s great for the league. It’s great for the basketball world. It creates a lot of excitement and it gives a lot of teams reasons to compete, reasons to get involved in the Play-In game. Look at all the excitement it’s creating now. Some of these early Play-In matchups – there’s a lot of intrigue. We’re playing against a really good team and I’m excited that we fought our way back to be in this position. Give credit where it’s due with our players, never giving up or giving in…hopefully we can keep playing well and keep moving forward.”
Beal fighting through hamstring strain with the season on the line
A postseason run for the Wizards will likely rely heavily on Beal, who finished second in the NBA in scoring and became the sixth player since the NBA-ABA merger to average at least 30.0 points per game in back-to-back seasons. Beal concluded his season with a heroic performance against the Hornets on Sunday, scoring 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. Prior to tip, Beal was listed as a game-time decision after missing the previous three games with a left hamstring strain. The All-Star guard was noticeably limited in the first half, but came alive in the second half to lead the Wizards’ comeback. Beal’s health will be a focal point for as long as Washington’s postseason goes on. While he has all but ruled out the possibility of getting all the way back to full health, Beal knows he won’t have to be at 100% to make a difference.
“I didn’t injure it any worse (on Sunday against Charlotte) than what it was, so that’s a positive,” Beal said after practice on Monday. “Obviously, it probably still won’t be 100%, it’s just a matter of managing it and playing the best I can.”
“I will say, I’m not as sore as I thought I would be or as beat up as I thought,” Beal said. “I feel pretty good – still a little bit sore. Treatment will be my friend in the next 24 hours.”
Whatever Beal is able to give, it will come against a team he had plenty of success against this season. In three games against the Celtics, Beal averaged 40.7 points per game, his most against any single opponent. He shot 55.3% from the field, 45.8% from 3-point range and 96.4% from the free throw line to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. In the teams’ last meeting, Beal scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, part of a 46-point performance in a last-second, one-point loss.
Tatum leads sliding Celtics
The Celtics enter the Play-In Tournament having lost five of their last six games and will be playing without All-Star wing Jaylen Brown, who underwent season-ending surgery on his left wrist last week. Brown averaged a career-high 24.7 points per game this season to go along with 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. Boston was also playing without Brown in the team’s last meeting with the Wizards on February 28. He sat out due to left knee soreness, clearing the way for big games from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. Tatum finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Walker scored 21 points to go along with five rebounds and eight assists.
Tatum has been the team’s most consistent player in an up-and-down season. In his final 10 games of the season, Tatum averaged 30.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, highlighted by a 60-point performance against the Spurs on April 30. Tatum and Beal are two of just three players to record multiple games with 50-plus points this season.
“Jayson is obviously a well-rounded player,” Brooks said. “He’s an All-Star for a reason and there are not a lot of them in the league. We’re going to have multiple players guard him, but like all the great players, you need a lot of eyeballs on those players. They’re going to have the same situation trying to guard Brad with the players that they want to put on him…It’s going to take a total team effort to stop Jayson and they’re better players.”