Fight for 1st: Celtics vs. Cavs Preview
Heading into the season, most people (including me) had a similar opinion on how the playoff picture in the East would end up looking. The defending champs would have their spot secured at the top, Toronto and Boston would battle for the 2 seed, and then it would be a toss up from 3-8. But 70-some-odd games into a year full of both over and under achieving teams, Wednesday’s tilt in Boston becomes a bit more intriguing. The Wizards have surprised everyone, probably even themselves, and no one wants to see them in the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Raptors have had to deal with a Kyle Lowry injury and have regressed since last year, but they can give any teams problems when he returns for the postseason. It’s true the Cavs are not as good as they were last year, but don’t underestimate how big JR Smith’s absence has been. Once he gets his rhythm back, their offense will look more cohesive. They also have the best player on the planet.
And then there’s IT and the Celtics, who come into Wednesday’s game tied with the best record in the East for the first time since 2011. Despite extended missed time from core players, they’re the first team in the conference to reach 50 wins. But time will tell if they can finally convert that regular season success into the playoffs for once. Like it has for the past 6 years, the East runs through whatever team LeBron plays for and its not likely that will change. Still, the last matchup between the East’s top two seeds could prove to be important down the line.
The Cavs, amongst rumors they might sit their top players given that it’s the second night of a back to back, easily handled the Magic Tuesday night. With Kevin Love and JR Smith back in the fold, they’re finally starting to gain momentum heading into the playoffs. As long as Tristan Thompson doesn’t throw the hands with Bron, Cleveland is getting healthy at the right time. The champs will downplay this game, say that it’s just regular season and it doesn’t matter, but we know deep down they’ll be locked in for this one.
Boston will be coming off of two days rest after Sunday’s dismantling of the Knicks in MSG. Avery Bradley is set to return to lineup but Jae Crowder’s status is in question with an elbow injury. I’ll be the first to tell you that if Crowder doesn’t play, then this doesn’t look like a good matchup for the Celtics. He’s the most capable defender on the roster to matchup with LeBron, and he’s been stepping up on offense as of late to round it out. Boston needs to start fast and prevent Kevin Love from getting his usual early buckets. If the “others” get involved early on the road, LeBron can handle the rest on his own for the rest of the game. If the Celtics have any shot at beating the Cavs in the playoffs, home court is a prerequisite, and I expect them to approach this game as such.