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Preview Game 76: Where Possible Playoff Futures Might Be Seen, And Wonders May Abound!...Or It Might Just Be Another Non-Playoff Game.

Illadelphia 76ers (40-37, 15-25 away) @ Boston Celtics (53-23, 30-8 home)
Time: 7:30 PM EST, April 5th, 2011
Venue: TD Garden, Boston
Referees: Ed Malloy, Matt Boland, Brian Forte (full report)
The Line: The Celtics are currently slated for a playoff matchup against
the Sixers (3 seed Boston v 6 seed Philly). Boston is 2-1 against
Philadelphia right now, but Philadelphia won the last contest.
Countdowninator: 6 regular season thingys left

Game Thread | Chat Room

Tonight *could* be pretty important. As the standings sit right now, Philadelphia is the team that Boston will face in the playoffs, or as I like it call it, "Basketball Highlander Time". As long as Miami stays ahead of Boston in the standings and New York doesn't pass Philly, we'll be seeing the Sixers in the first round.

That's important for a lot of reasons, chief amongst them being Philadelphia's recent hot play, compared to Boston's room temperature performances. Philadelphia is sporting recent wins over Chicago, Houston, Boston, and Atlanta in just the last month. They've shown the capacity to bother or beat even the best teams in the NBA, and they had unofficially been given the title of "lower-seed 1st round team nobody wants to face', mostly because bloggers and NBA personalities kept saying that phrase out loud.

Tonight though might go a long way towards debunking that particular trending thought. While Philadelphia has quite a few players that are exceeding expectations, one of its longest tenured 'Sixers just went down with injury, and that may be a much bigger deal than anyone is talking about.

Lou Williams has for a long time been an afterthought in Philadelphia's roster. When he first got into the league and started 'doin what he do', Allen Iverson was the defacto scorer in the back court, and Williams only got to sniff the ball when Iverson sat. Then, Iverson was traded, and Andre Miller became the plucky but flawed point guard, with Williams again taking the backseat, being too small to be a consistent SG, and too flawed as a passer to be a PG.

Then, Andre Miller left, and it looked like Lou WIlliams was finally going to have his time...until Jrue Holiday emerged as a starting caliber talent and took that spot away this season. Yet, Lou WIlliams carried on off the bench, and it looked like he might have been a lot more important than anyone knew. But we'll find out soon enough, as Lou WIlliams is now out for the rest of the regular season, and possibly some of the playoffs. From Rob Mahoney at the NYT's BBall Blog (Via BDL):

When Williams is in the lineup, Philadelphia is a deceptively good team; they boast a top-10 defense, have one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and maximize their offensive talent by limiting turnovers while working towards quality shot attempts. Without him, Philadelphia maintains its defensive efficacy, but doesn’t stand a chance on offense. Shot creation is already a rare commodity and the removal of Williams -– its best individual creator -– from the mix leaves the 76ers in an unenviable situation.

This may seem like a bit much to attribute to a shot-happy sixth man who plays just 23 minutes a night, but consider Williams’s function within Philadelphia’s offense. As both a point guard and one of the only Sixers who can actually generate an open shot by his own devices, Williams is functionally fulfilling the role of a star.

So while the country tears the Celtics apart for trading away Kendrick Perkins because of Shaquille O'Neal's recent problems getting healthy, even bigger problems might be looming over in Philadelphia. Tonight should provide a fantastic opportunity to not only send a message to a possible playoff match-up, but also to see just how the loss of Lou Williams is going to affect that match-up in a few weeks

Probable starting lineups, team connections, key matchups, and X-factor all courtesy of Celticsblog resident superhero, FLCeltsFan!

Probable Starters

PG: Rajon Rondo..................................................SG Ray Allen

C: Jermaine O'Neal

SF: Paul Pierce ................................. ............PF Kevin Garnett

Celtics Reserves
Glen Davis
Delonte West
Jeff Green
Carlos Arroyo
Von Wafer
Troy Murphy
Nenad Krstic
Avery Bradley
Sasha Pavlovic

Shaquille O'Neal (calf) out

Probable Starters

PG: Jrue Holiday ......................................................SF: Jodie Meeks

C: Spencer Hawes

SF: Andre Iguodala .................................................. PF: Elton Brand

Sixers Bench
Thaddeus Young
Andres Nocioni
Marreese Speights
Tony Battie
Jason Kapono
Craig Brackins
Darius Songaila
Evan Turner
Antonio Daniels

Lou Williams (hamstring) out
Andre Iguodala (knee) probable
Elton Brand (hand) probable

Team Connections
Tony Battie played for the Celtics from 1998‐2004
Jodie Meeks and Rajon Rondo are former Kentucky Wildcats
Jason Kapono and Jermaine O’Neal were teammates in Toronto during the 2008‐09 season
Jermaine O’Neal and Sixers Assistant Coach Michael Curry were teammates in Indiana during the 2004‐05 season
Jermaine O’Neal and Sixers Assistant Coach Aaron McKie were teammates in Portland during the 1996‐97 season
Shaquille O’Neal and Jason Kapono were teammates in Miami from 2005‐07
Ray Allen was teammates with Sixers Assistant Coach Michael Curry in Milwaukee from 1997‐99
Von Wafer and Elton Brand were teammates on the Clippers during the 2006‐07 season.

Key Matchups
Paul Pierce vs Andre Iguodala
Iguodala has been slowed recently with a sore knee. He is expected to play but it has affected his level of play. He has shot just 37% from the field over the last 3 games. Pierce should take advantage of this and be aggressive.

Kevin Garnett vs Elton Brand
Brand has been playing well and has scored over 20 points in his last two games. Brand is averaging team-highs of 14.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.25 blocks. KG has also been playing well and this should be a very good matchup to watch.

Honorable Mention
Ray Allen vs Jodie Meeks
Ray will need to stay on Meeks defensively as Meeks has hit a team high 133 three pointers this season and is one of 5 players (including Ray Allen) who ranks in the top 15 in both three pointers made and 3 point percentage. With better ball movement in the last game, Ray showed evidence of snapping out of his recent slump. It would be nice to see Ray have a big game in this one.

Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics must concentrate on defense and keep the Sixers out of the paint as well as guarding them tightly on the perimeter. If the Celtics give the Sixers the outside shots, chances are they will make them.

Rebound - In their first meeting, the Sixers are a good rebounding team. The Celtics must put out effort on the boards and that effort will translate into other areas as well. They have to box out and crash the boards to keep the Sixers from scoring second chance points.

- The Celtics must come into the game focused and not let up until the final buzzer. If the season ended right now, this would be the first round matchup in the East. The Celtics have to be focused on sending a message in this game and not allow the Sixers to enter the playoffs with confidence that they can beat the Celtics.

Team Play
The Celtics got back to playing more as a team against the Pistons. The passing was much better and the team moved the ball and found the open man. Not surprisingly, Ray got more shots and hit them. They Celtics must continue to play as a team on both ends of the court, but especially on the offensive end.

Bench Play
Doc is trying to settle his rotation for the playoffs and at the same time keep the minutes down for the starters. The Celtics need their bench to produce when they are on the court. The Sixers bench ranks 3rd in the league with 39.6 points per game. The Celtics reserves must respond with defense to try to limit the scoring of the Sixers bench along with providing enough offense of their own to give the Celtics starters rest.

Message Game
The Celtics need to send a message to the Sixers, who may be their first round opponent. It would not be a good idea to allow the Sixers to beat them and gain confidence going into the playoffs.