Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire
Can guard Avery Bradley and the Celtics get by the Magic on Wednesday night?Boston's next two games are against its two most likely playoff opponents, and it starts Wednesday night when the Orlando Magic (36-25, 16-13 away) visit the Celtics (36-26, 21-9 home) at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Due to injuries (Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu are out) and rest for the approaching postseason, this game has potential to be light on star power. To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What's the best strategy for Boston from here on out? When does Doc Rivers go full rest mode with his team?
Payne: I think that over the next two games, Rivers can afford to be a little more specific with whom he shuts down. For example, given his nasty fall against the Knicks on Tuesday night, Rajon Rondo might need a night off, but Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are probably good to go. I don't think we'll see any of Boston's major players during the final two games of the season, but I do think it's important to try to get Ray Allen back as soon as possible, first so he can develop his shooting rhythm again, and second so Rivers' ideal rotation -- which obviously includes Allen, even in a bench role -- can have a game or two of action before the playoffs start. I think four games is a bit too long to rest guys, when you consider things like rhythm and what not, but assuming nothing too drastic changes in the standings over the next few days, we probably won't see many key guys for the final two games.
Forsberg: The Celtics really need only one more win to wrap up the Atlantic Division (and if the Knicks falter with four of their final five games on the road, the Green might not need even that many), so it seems somewhat haphazard to trot out a dinged-up A-team on the second night of a back-to-back. If I'm Rivers, I think about keeping out Rondo after his hard fall in New York and maybe Pierce, too, given his recent thigh and toe issues. Maybe even go low minutes with Garnett -- the Magic don't have much depth at center, anyhow, at the moment -- and hope some of the younger legs such as Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass can carry you. From there, the Celtics will have plenty of rest between their next two matchups and can take it game by game to determine how hard to push their veterans (it would seem you'd want to get them some work to keep up their rhythm over these final eight games, then maybe shut them down for the season finale to allow extended rest before the playoffs start the final weekend of the month).
2. What else will you be focused on when the C's host the Magic?
Payne: Assuming he plays, I'll be watching Mickael Pietrus tonight. I mentioned the importance of rhythm heading into the postseason, and Pietrus doesn't seem to be in a very good one right now. Ever since he returned from his concussion, Pietrus' shooting has been way off (just 10-of-32), and that certainly doesn't bode well for Boston's bench production, even with Ray Allen now part of that equation. I'd say Pietrus has made it pretty clear how important he can be with his 3-point shooting, and it might take a friendly bout with one of his old clubs to help him get back on target. When you talk about things the Celtics can accomplish over these last four games, re-establishing Pietrus' rhythm has to be flirting with the top of the list.
Forsberg: Obviously you have to watch the Celtics' 3-point defense and see whether they can get back to being the best team in the league at defending the arc. After watching what the Knicks did Tuesday night, the Magic's sharpshooters have to be practically drooling. You mentioned Pietrus potentially going up against his old team; let's also keep an eye on Bass. If the Celtics elect to rest some guys, Bass could be a primary offensive option, and it will be interesting to see how he fares with increased shots against his former squad. And if Rondo does get a rare night off -- as unlikely as he is to ask for one -- it will be intriguing to see whether Bradley runs the point and how effective Boston's backup ball-handlers are in that role overall.