The Celtics visit the Washington Wizards for the 3rd of 4 meetings between these two teams this season. Their first meeting was on October 27 where the Wizards won 116-107 in Boston. Their second meeting was just 3 days later as the Wizards once again won 115-112 in double overtime in Washington. They will meet for the 4th time this season on April 3 in Boston.
The Celtics are 10th in the East and have lost their last 2 games. They are 8-14 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 16-13 against Eastern Conference teams. They are just half a game ahead of the 11th place Knicks and 1.5 games ahead of the 12th place Hawks. They are 1/2 game behind their opponent in this game and 1 game behind 8th place Toronto.
The Wizards are 9th in the East and, like the Celtics, they have lost their last 2 games They are 13-10 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 16-15 against other Eastern Conference teams. They are just half a game ahead of the Celtics. Like many games at this time of the season, this game has a lot riding on it for the seeding in the East. A win by the Celtics will move them to 9th, half a game ahead of the Wizards, rather than half a game behind them.
Since these teams are 9th and 10th currently and both teams have been very inconsistent, this may be a preview of the play in tournament for the playoffs. The Wizards had pulled over .500 with 3 straight wins. but then lost 3 of 4 games since then. The Celtics have been at .500, then one game over .500 and then back to .500 and now they are once again one game below .500.
The Wizards are playing in the 7th game of an 8 game home stand. They are 3-3 so far on their home stand and will finish it up on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. They will then head out for a 3 game road trip. The Celtics just finished up a 4 game home stand where they went 2-2. They will return home to face the Kings for one game before a back to back on the road against Atlanta and New Orleans.
The Celtics are once again close to being at full strength. Marcus Smart, who has missed the last 6 games between a thigh contusion and the health and safety protocols, is probable for this game. If he can’t play for some reason, then Dennis Schroder should once again get the start. Aaron Nesmith (ankle) is also probable for this game. Bol Bol is out after having foot surgery and PJ Dozier is out with a torn ACL.
Washington should be at full strength. Kyle Kuzma missed their last game with muscle spasms in his neck but is listed as probable for this game. Head Coach Wes Unseld, Jr has missed 4 games due to health and safety protocols but is expected to be back for this game. Other than that, their injury list is clear.
Probable Celtics Starters
Marcus Smart (conditioning) probable
Aaron Nesmith (ankle) probable
Bol Bol (foot) out
PJ Dozier (knee) out
Probable Wizards Starters
Kyle Kuzma (neck) probable
Wes Unseld, Jr
Jaylen Brown vs Bradley Beal
This is a key matchup for both teams. Bradley Beal is averaging 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game. He is shooting 45.5% from the field and 30.3% from beyond the arc. Jaylen Brown has been somewhat inconsistent this season so it’s hard to tell whether we will get efficient Jaylen or the one that shoots 0-whatever from three. The Celtics need Jaylen to be his best on both ends of the court.
Jayson Tatum vs Kyle Kuzma
Kuzma is probable for this game after missing Friday’s game with neck spasms. If he can’t play, then Deni Avdija may get a second straight start. Kuzma is averaging 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. He is shooting 45.4% from the field and 32.3% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum is in a major shooting slump, missing every 3 pointer in his past 3 games. It would be great if he can break out of that slump in this game.
Grant Williams vs Montrezl Harrell
This is a matchup of key players off the bench. Harrell is averaging 14.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. He is shooting 65.3% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc. In the first game between these two teams, Harrell had 25 points and 11 rebounds and in the second game, he put up 20 points and 14 rebounds. The Celtics definitely need to slow him down in this one. Grant is coming off one of his best games this season and the Celtics need him to continue to play well on both ends in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 107.3 which is 5th in the league. The Wizards are 22nd with a defensive rating of 111.0. The Celtics play great defense at times in games and then let up and allow their opponents to score at will at other times. The Wizards are 3rd in the league with 51.3 points in the paint. The Celtics need to defend the paint without letting up on their perimeter defense. It will take a lot more effort and dedication to defense on each player’s part to play the type of consistent winning defense they need to.
Rebounding - Rebounding is also always a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and focus and the Celtics had neither in their first game against the Wizards, where they were out-rebounded 47-37, or in the second game where they were out-rebounded 62-54. The Celtics must put out more effort to crash the boards and when they do, it usually filters down to the rest of their game as well.
Focus and Effort - Much has been said by Ime Udoka, the players, the fans, and the media about the Celtics lack of effort in many of their games this season. The players and coach all say they know they have to play harder and have more focus. They have to focus on moving the ball carefully, on taking good shots, on going after loose balls and on playing the right way. In the past, the Celtics would beat much better teams just because they played harder and put out more effort. This season, the opposite has been true. The Blazers, for example, were depleted and shouldn’t have won, but they were the team that played harder. The Celtics must play with increased focus and effort if they expect to beat the Wizards.
Be Aggressive - Along with putting in more effort and having better focus, the team has to be the more aggressive team. They have to be more aggressive in going to the basket, in defending, in going for loose balls and just be more aggressive in general. Too many times we see the Celtics standing around while their opponents run for a rebound or for a loose ball. They have to especially be aggressive in going to the basket if their outside shots aren’t falling again. The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team and they can’t let the Wizards play harder than them.
Teamwork - The Celtics need to play as a team on both ends of the court. They need to move the ball and find the best shot on each possession. They have to trust each other to make the right play. They also have to play as a team on defense, not missing defensive assignments and backing each other up on defense. When the Celtics have fewer than 20 assists, they usually struggle. They have to work as a team and play together on both offense and defense. Hero ball usually doesn’t end well.
Coaching - They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s time for Ime to do something different. It would be good to change up the starting lineup to feature the two Jays, and the two Williams’ and Marcus Smart and have Al and Dennis coming off the bench. He needs to change things up because what he has been doing so far isn’t working all that well. He also needs to hold players accountable and bench them when they don’t play the right way.
Officiating - Officiating is always an X-Factor. Some refs call the game tight with a whistle on every little bit of contact. Others let them play and allow more contact. There are always some questionable calls as well. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the game is being called and not play for fouls and not lose focus in the game over calls they think they should get.