Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch/listen: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Celtics: Kyrie Irving – Marcus Smart – Jayson Tatum – Marcus Morris – Al Horford
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Pat Beverley – Landry Shamet – Danilo Gallinari – Ivica Zubac
Celtics: Jayson Tatum Questionable (Shoulder)
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (Knee)
The Big Picture:
The surging Clippers have won four games in a row, but still sit in 8th place in the Western Conference because the Spurs and Jazz have tiebreakers over them. They’ve separated from the rest of the pack, though the Kings still linger four games behind. The range of possible Clippers’ outcomes thus range everywhere from the 6th seed (unlikely due to ease of Jazz’s schedule) to 9th. Right now, with the team looking good and finally getting some much-needed rest, an all-out push for the 6th and 7th seeds seems more likely than a slide from the postseason. Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac continue to pay dividends in the starting lineup, while Pat Beverley is a man possessed on the glass and defensive end. The Clippers might not be great, but they’re looking like a very solid, capable team with 15 games left in the regular season.
Despite all the bewailing of the Celtics’ “disastrous” season, they have a 41-26 record and are a mere game back of the Sixers and Pacers for the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s true, they won’t win 60+ games or claim a top 2 seed, as most people thought they would before the season began. But they’re still a dangerous, talented team, led by one of the best scorers, (Kyrie Irving), defenders (Marcus Smart), and well-rounded big men (Al Horford) in the NBA. Some of their players haven’t quite developed as expected (noticeably Terry Rozier), and others have fallen back to earth (Marcus Morris), but their young guys have played well lately, and their team is mostly healthy for the stretch run. The Celts are good, and match up well against the Clippers. They will also be out for vengeance after allowing the Clippers to come back from 28 points down in their last meeting.
More Lou Williams record-breaking: In the Clippers’ last game, Lou Williams pushed past Jamal Crawford to have the second-most points ever off the bench in NBA history (though Jamal may have retaken that in the past couple games), and also seized the lead for 40+ point games off the bench. He’s now just 24 points behind Dell Curry for the all-time lead in points scored off the bench, which is very much within Lou’s grasp. Lou is already well on the path to being the best NBA 6th man of all time, and this record will be a huge milestone for him.
Can Shai continue his strong play: Shai is in one of the best stretches of his brief NBA career. So far, in four March games, Shai is averaging 13.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, to only 0.5 turnovers. More impressively, he’s shooting 52.6% from the field while taking more shots, and has hit 7 of 10 threes. His aggression in looking for his own offense has been fantastic to watch, as Shai can create looks for himself more easily than almost any other player on the Clippers’ roster. When his shot is falling and he’s feeling himself, you can see the outlines of a player who could score a lot of points pretty efficiently in his prime. Let’s hope that confidence continues against the Celtics, who have the best point guard defender in the NBA in Marcus Smart.
Bounceback for Trez: Montrezl Harrell, on the other hand, is in one of his worst stretches of the season. In March, he’s at just 13.8 points per game, on a poor 48% shooting from the field (he’s at 16.1 and 61.9% for the season), and has been dominated by the size and length of opposing players like Harry Giles and Nerlens Noel. While Al Horford is really good, he’s rather small for a center as well, so Trez should hopefully enjoy more success against him, or against Aron Baynes. While the Clippers have won the last four games, to make a real run at a non-8 seed down the stretch, they need Trez to be the player he has been all season. Knowing Trez, a dominant performance is due any game now.
Wilson Chandler watch: While Chandler was active for the Clippers’ game against the Thunder, he did not play. While I advocated here that Chandler probably shouldn’t be a regular part of Doc’s rotation, I was a bit surprised he didn’t get any run at all, especially since Doc reached deep into his bench to play Sindarius Thornwell at one point. It could be that Chandler is available but still needs to get back into shape and learn the playbook, so won’t play for the next game or two. On the other hand, the Celtics with their big wings (Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward) are a team that Chandler could be useful against. It will be interesting to see if Doc gives him some playing time in this one.
Check out Celtics Blog for the Celtics’ perspective, and check back in later for the game thread.