The Boston Celtics (33-27) are hosting the Atlanta Hawks (34-26) in a contest that should be extremely thrilling, with the outcome sure to have measurable results in the conference standings.
It’s the third time these two teams have met during the 2012-13 campaign and promises to be another closely contested battle between budding rivals.
Let’s take a look at where you can watch all the action, highlight key players to keep an eye on, check out the latest injury report, make a prediction on the final score and more.
When: Friday, March 8 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
Hawks Injury Report (via USA TODAY)
F Ivan Johnson, Questionable, Finger
C Zaza Pachulia, Questionable, Achilles
G Louis Williams, Out, Knee
Celtics Injury Report (via USA TODAY)
F Jared Sullinger, Out, Back
G Rajon Rondo, Out, Knee
Key Storyline: Playoff Seeding
The Eastern Conference playoff picture is wide open right now, with plenty of contending teams having a legitimate chance to fall anywhere from the No. 2 to No. 7 seed, depending on their play over the five weeks.
Considering there are six squads all within five games of one another at this juncture, the result of each and every contest begins to take on more importance.
Tiebreakers seem highly likely to factor into this seeding equation, which is why both the Celtics and Hawks should be digging deep to come away with the victory on Friday evening.
As of now, the season series is split at one apiece, with the C’s stealing one on the road in ATL back on Jan. 5. Boston could have taken a commanding lead 20 days later, but wound up falling short in a double-overtime thriller—losing Rajon Rondo in the process.
With the action heading back to Beantown, the Celtics have a real chance to gain the edge and should be looking to do so in front of their home fans.
However, don’t sleep on the Hawks. They just earned a much-needed victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, snapped a three-game losing streak and built momentum going into this rivalry game.
Key Matchup: Paul Pierce vs. Josh Smith
These two All-Star snubs will likely spend plenty of time guarding one another, a common sight when these two clubs face off.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Pierce is dealing with a pinched nerve in his neck and a bruised knee. It may limit his ability, but should not keep him out of the action.
Smith won the last matchup against Pierce, helping to hold the Celtics veteran to 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting (0-5 3PT), six rebounds and four assists, while forcing him to commit five turnovers in 40 minutes of play.
The Truth finished that double-OT game with a plus-minus of minus-30, the lowest of any player on the team.
J-Smoove wasn’t exactly getting buckets, but he did score 17 points on 7-of-20 shooting (0-3 3PT) and grabbed a whopping 14 rebounds to go with seven assists and two blocks.
If the C’s are going to pull out a victory on Friday, Pierce is going to have to figure out a way to produce while being guarded by Smith. The Truth is facing one of the most athletic players in the game, so he will need to use his wide array of crafty moves to get over on the younger opponent.
On the other side, J-Smoove should be able to win the showdown by simply hustling. He can outrebound Pierce, move step-for-step with the small forward and keep him contained on the defensive end.
Offensively, Smith should be able to do a decent job wearing down the opposition by consistently moving and working to get to the cup.
Regardless of what happens, expect both players to fight hard and the one that winds up ahead in their personal battle should greatly help their respective team win the game.
This one is extremely tough to predict, but we’re giving the edge to the Celtics.
They fought Atlanta hard in two road games, winning one and fighting through two extra periods before faltering in the second.
Add in the fact that this is the team that superstar PG Rajon Rondo went down against and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Celtics bring their A-game at home against the Hawks.
Which team will win?
Boston will certainly struggle with ATL’s athleticism and youth, but this veteran-laden squad should be able to put away a team that has largely struggled on the road this past week (going 0-3 against the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets before returning home to beat Philly.)
It’s going to be a close contest, but the C’s will win in the end.
Celtics 94 – Hawks 92