When the Boston Celtics travel to Indianapolis to face the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, it very well could be a playoff preview.
It also should be an excellent game.
The Pacers are one of the NBA's finest teams and are making a case as the second-best team in the East behind the red-hot Miami Heat. Meanwhile, despite the loss of Rajon Rondo for the season, the Celtics look very firmly entrenched as a playoff team as well.
The Celtics won the only meeting between these teams in early January, 94-75. Let's take a closer look at this March tilt between two teams that might be meeting again in April once the playoffs begin.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
When: Wednesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: CSNHD/WEEI (Boston); FSIHD (Indianapolis)
Streaming: NBA League Pass
Listen: XM 221; 107.5 The Fan (Indianapolis)
Celtics Injuries (via ESPN)
F Jeff Green, Elbow, Day-To-Day
Pacers Injuries (via ESPN)
F Danny Granger, Knee, Day-To-Day
If the season ended today, these two teams would play one another in the first round of the NBA playoffs (the Pacers as the No. 2 seed, the Celtics at No. 7). With that in mind, we very well could be looking at a playoff preview in this game.
The Celtics have been surprisingly good since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season to an ACL tear in late January, going 11-4 in that time. The Pacers have been pretty hot themselves, however, going 11-3 since the beginning of February.
The last meeting between these teams was a physical affair that led to a Kevin Garnett ejection, so expect this one to be chippy as well.
Key Matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Roy Hibbert
The Celtics will probably roll out Chris Wilcox to match up with Roy Hibbert in this game as well, but I would expect to see Kevin Garnett and Hibbert battling in the post quite a bit.
Quite simply, the Pacers are very difficult to beat when Hibbert dominates offensively. When he scores 18 points or more, Indiana is 9-0 this season. When he pulls down 10 or more rebounds, the Pacers are 14-6.
Things go well for Indiana when Hibbert is a force in the paint.
With that being said, Garnett is Garnett. The fiery and emotional leader of the Celtics can still ball a little bit, too. He's averaging 14.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
X-Factor: Paul Pierce, Celtics
Paul Pierce is on fire, folks. In his last three games, he's averaging 25 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists, and the Celtics have won two in a row.
At 35 years of age, Pierce has obviously lost a step, but it hasn't been a big one. The man can still fill it up, and he's been hot of late.
What's more, he'll need to have another big performance against Indiana.
Whereas the Pacers are a deep team that spreads the scoring around, Pierce is clearly the top gun for the Celtics. If he starts feeling it early, the Celtics are going to be very tough to beat.
Projected Starting Lineup: Celtics
PG: Avery Bradley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Kevin Garnett
Projected Starting Lineup: Pacers
PG: George Hill
SG: Lance Stephenson
SF: Paul George
PF: David West
C: Roy Hibbert
Which team wins?
The Celtics have been very good since Rondo's injury, yes, but the Pacers are the best team in the Eastern Conference not named the Miami Heat.
They're at home, looking for revenge after January's defeat and battling with the New York Knicks for the No. 2 seed. Expect the Pacers to come out motivated and get a 95-87 win.