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Celtics look to clinch a playoff berth as they visit the Timberwolves

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The Celtics complete their 3 game road trip with a stop in Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves. With a win, they can become the second team, behind the Raptors, to clinch their playoff berth.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics complete their 3 game road trip with a stop in Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games while the Wolves are 4-6 in their last 10 games. The Celtics won their last game and have won 4 of their last 5 games. The Timberwolves have lost 2 straight and they have lost their last 3 vs the Celtics and 4 of their last 4 games against the Celtics in Minnesota.

The Celtics have played well on the road with a 22-9 record away from the Garden. The Wolves have played very well at home with a 25-7 record at the Target Center. The Celtics are 16-7 vs Western Conference teams while the Wolves are 10-15 against teams from the Eastern Conference. This is the second and final game between these two teams. The Celtics won the first game 91-84 on January 5.

The Celtics are still 2nd in the East, 2.5 games behind the Raptors, after their win over the Pistons on the road on Wednesday. The Timberwolves are 6th in the West, just 1.5 games out of 3rd place and 2.5 games ahead of the Clippers, who are in 9th place, half a game out of playoff position.

Kyrie Irving missed the Celtics game on Monday with a sore knee but participated in practice on Wednesday and said that he plans to play in this game for the Celtics. Danny Ainge has said that Kyrie will likely need to manage his knee for the rest of his career. Gordon Hayward remains out. For the Timberwolves, only Jimmy Butler is on the injured list with a meniscus injury. The Wolves are 2-2 since Butler went out.

The Timberwolves signed Derrick Rose to a contract for the rest of the season on Thursday and it is possible that he will be available to play in this game. The Raptors were the first team to clinch a playoff spot on Wednesday and the Celtics can join them in clinching a playoff spot with a win over the Timberwolves in this one.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Abdel Nader
Daniel Theis
Terry Rozier
Shane Larkin
Marcus Smart
Semi Ojeleye
Marcus Morris
Greg Monroe

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Guerschon Yabusele (G-League) day to day

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Timberwolves Starters

PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: Nemanja Bjelica
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves Reserves
Cole Aldrich
Aaron Brooks
Jamal Crawford
Gorgui Dieng
Marcus Georges-Hunt
Justin Patton
Tyus Jones
Derrick Rose

Injuries
Jimmy Butler (knee) out

Two Way Players
Anthony Brown
Amile Jefferson

Coach
Tom Thibodeau

Key Matchups

Aron Baynes vs Karl Anthony Towns
Aron Baynes has been starting for the Celtics since the All Star break and I’m guessing that he will start this game as well. Towns is very versatile and is playing very well. He is averaging 20.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Baynes will have his hands full trying to slow down the Wolves 7’ center who is versatile enough to have beaten Isaiah Thomas in the Skills Challenge.

Jaylen Brown vs Andrew Wiggins
With Butler out, Wiggins is starting at shooting guard. He is playing well and is averaging 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. He is shooting 33.1% from beyond the arc and can get into the paint as well. Jaylen will need to stay with him both inside and out.

Honorable Mention
Kyrie Irving vs Jeff Teague
Teague seems to always get up to play the Celtics and has had some big games against the Celtics in the past. He is averaging 13.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. Hopefully Kyrie is right and will be back for this game.

Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! Defense is the key to winning every game. The Timberwolves average 109.7 points per game, which is 6th in the league, while the Celtics average 104.4 points per game (20th). It seems odd for a Thibodeau coached team to be 24th with a defensive rating of 108.3. The Celtics remain first with a defensive rating of 101.3. The Celtics must continue to make defense a priority and play tough individual and team defense if they want to win this one.

Take Care of the Ball - The Wolves are 5th in the league with 18.1 points off turnovers. The Celtics need to take care of the ball and focus on making good passes because if they get sloppy, the Wolves will certainly make them pay.

Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 44.3 rebounds per game (8th) to 41.8 rebounds per game for the Wolves (24th). The Wolves are 5th in Points in the Paint with 48.5 and 3rd in Second Chance Points with 13.9. The Celtics need to put in extra effort to crash the boards and beat the Wolves to the rebounds and limit their second chance points.

Be Aggressive - One of the strengths of the Celtics has been their aggressiveness on the court. They need to be aggressive in going after rebounds, on defense, in attacking the basket and in going after loose balls. The more aggressive team will also usually get more calls from the officials. The Celtics must be the more aggressive team and be the team that plays harder.

Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics at times will start off slow and then have to dig themselves out of a an early hole or else, they start strong and get a big lead and then let the opponent back into the game and have to fight right up until the end. They need to get off to a strong start and play hard right up until the final buzzer.

X-Factors
On the Road - The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 3 game road trip. They have to be able to focus on playing Celtics basketball and block out the hostile crowd and the factors that make it difficult to play on the road. The Wolves play well at home and so the Celtics have to be ready to play harder and more focused than them.

Rest vs Rust - The Celtics, for the most part this season, have played every other day with 11 back to backs. They have had 11 games with more than 1 day off between them and the Celtics are 6-5 when they have had more than one day rest. Hopefully as they head down the final stretch they will come ready to play regardless of how long it has been since their last game.