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The even more shorthanded Celtics visit Milwaukee Bucks in a possible first round preview

The very shorthanded Celtics visit the Milwaukee Bucks for the first of back to back games in what could be a first round preview.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics and Bucks meet for the 4th and final game this season. The Bucks came to Boston for the Celtics home opener. It was the day after the Celtics lost Gordon Hayward to the gruesome injury and the Celtics were playing in back to back games and just didn’t have enough to overcome the Greek Freak and company. The Bucks won that game 108-100.

They met a second time on October 26 when the Celtics avenged their opening loss with a 96-89 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee. They met for the third time on Dec 4 in Boston with the Celtics coming away with a 111-100 win. The Celtics have a 2-1 lead in the series.

The Celtics have won 6 straight games in spite of all the injuries. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are a good road team with a 28-10 record on the road. The Bucks are coming off a loss and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are decent at home with a 23-15 record at home.

The Celtics are still 2nd in the East. The Cavs are 6.5 games back in 3rd with no chance to move up into 2nd place. The Cavs are just half a game ahead of 4th place and 1 game ahead of 5th place and there is a chance that they could slip further down the standings.

The Bucks are currently 8th, 4 games ahead of Detroit, who are in 9th. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is any combination of 2 Bucks wins or Pistons losses. The Bucks are tied with the Heat for the 7th best record but Miami owns the tie breaker. They are just 1 game behind the Wizards, who are currently 6th.

Marcus Smart (thumb), Kyrie Irving (knee), Daniel Theis (knee), and Gordon Hayward (ankle) are all still out as expected. Shane Larkin spent a couple of days in the hospital with the flu and is also out. Terry Rozier missed Monday’s practice with a tweaked ankle and has also been ruled out for this game despite his assurances that he planned to play. My guess is that they are going to be cautious and will play him on Wednesday vs the Raptors.

I’m going to guess that Kadeem Allen starts at point guard since he’s the only actual point guard left on the roster that can still walk. I expect to see a lot of point Tatum and point Horford in this one as well. For the Bucks, Matthew Dellavedova has been out over a month with an ankle injury and is listed as day to day. Thon Maker has been out with a groin injury but plans to play in this game. Malcolm Brogdon is listed as out with a quadriceps injury.

Games to watch that may affect the standings in the east are Toronto at Cleveland, Washington at Houston, and Atlanta at Miami.

Probable Celtics Starters

Kadeem Allen...Jaylen Brown... Jayson TatumAl Horford...Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Greg Monroe
Guerschon Yabusele
Jabari Bird
Xavier Silas

Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Shane Larkin (illness) out
Terry Rozier (ankle) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Bucks Starters

Eric Bledsoe...Tony Snell...Khris MiddletonGiannis Antetokounmpo...John Henson

Bucks Reserves
Sterling Brown
Brandon Jennings
Shabazz Muhammad
Jabari Parker
Jason Terry
DJ Wilson
Tyler Zeller

Matthew Dellavedova (ankle) day to day
Thon Maker (groin) probable
Malcolm Brogdon (out)

Two-Way Players
Xavier Munford
Marshall Plumlee

Head Coach
Joe Prunty

Key Matchups

Kadeem Allen vs Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe has been playing very well for the Bucks since they brought him in at the trade deadline. He is averaging 17.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He is shooting 34.3% from beyond the arc. It will be important for Allen to play well on both ends of the court. He has to limit Bledsoe’s offense and also give the Celtics a scoring boost on the offensive end. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie who spent the season in the G-League, but he should get some help from Jason Tatum and Al Horford who have both handled the ball with some success.

Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
”The Greek Freak” is a tough cover for anyone and Al Horford will get the job of trying to slow Antetokounmpo down. Horford is a good defender and he will definitely have his hands full trying to slow Antetokounmpo down. He lit the Celtics up in the first 3 games for 37 points, 28 points, and 40 points. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. He is shooting 53.5% from the field. Hopefully Al is up to the task.

Honorable Mention
Jayson Tatum vs Khris Middleton
Middleton is averaging 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. Both players are good defenders and will look to make it difficult for the other to have a big game in this one. This should be a good matchup to watch.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have been playing good defense this season, still at the top of the league with a 101.2 defensive rating. The Bucks’ defensive rating is 107.2, which is 19th. The Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority, especially since they remain shorthanded.

Move the Ball - The Celtics have shown some very good ball movement at times and at other times, the ball seems to stick and players try to do too much. When the ball sticks, it rarely ends well. When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man, they are tough to beat. They have been moving the ball very well in their 6 game win streak and they have to continue that in this game.

Rebound - The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball. The Celtics struggled to rebound last season but have been rebounding much better this season. It takes effort to rebound and when the Celtics put out that extra effort to get rebounds, it usually translates to other areas of their game. The Celtics are 10th in the league with 44.4 rebounds per game while the Bucks, in spite of having Antetounmpo attacking the glass, are last with just 39.5 rebounds per game. If the Celtics continue to crash the glass as a team, they give themselves a much better chance to get a win.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team from start to finish. They have to be aggressive in going after loose balls and on defense and going to the basket and grabbing rebounds. The more aggressive team usually gets the benefit of the calls also. They need to be the team that wants it more for all 48 minutes. No let up. They have been winning with effort and it will take a big effort to win in this one.

Road Game - The Celtics are on the road and will need to block out the hostile crowd and focus on playing Celtic basketball. The Celtics are a young team and typically, young players struggle on the road. The Celtics’ young players this season have shown maturity beyond their years and hopefully that continues as they hit the road for this game.

Injuries - The Celtics are still very short handed with 5 key players out and another questionable. They are pretty much out of point guards and will once again have to find a way to get every player to come up big to make up for all the injuries. They have somehow won 6 in a row while shorthanded but can they do it a 7th time with even more injuries?

What’s on The Line? - The Celtics are locked in to the 2nd spot and can’t drop lower but they can move up to first with a win tonight and tomorrow night and a loss by the Raptors to the Cavs. The Bucks are pretty much guaranteed a spot in the playoffs but they can move up out of 8th. They have a lot on the line and will come into this game playing like it.

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