Blakely's Celtics-Cavaliers preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Cavaliers preview

CLEVELAND It's hard to believe that the Boston Celtics' season is at a point where facing the Cleveland Cavaliers is a big game. But that's where we are as the two teams will be playing for the eighth and final playoff spot Tuesday night. Boston (15-17) currently holds the No. 8 slot, with the Cavaliers (13-18) just 1.5 games back.

A big part of Cleveland's unexpected rise to playoff contender status has been the play of rookie point guard Kyrie Irving.

He comes into tonight's game averaging 18.1 points (tops among rookies), 5.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

"They're playing great," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Kyrie Irving has put an entire franchise on his back in some ways, and has proven his pick was a pretty good pick."

The No. 1 overall pick in last June's NBA draft was named MVP of the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend.

Boston knows first-hand how good Irving is.

In the Celtics' 88-87 loss on Jan. 29, Irving split two defenders on a driving lay-up in the game's closing seconds for the Cavs win.

Of course Irving's play will be a factor in tonight's game.

But there will be others to pay attention to as the Celtics try and put a little more distance between themselves and the Cavaliers.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Don't be surprised if the Celtics try to get Ray Allen going early in the game. For one thing, he hasn't had many big games this season so it would probably catch the Cavaliers off guard. Also, he has a favorable matchup in Daniel Gibson. Gibson is smaller and thus provides the potential for Allen to showcase his all-around game, which includes, from time to time, scoring in the post.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Rajon Rondo vs Kyrie Irving: This will be Rondo's first meeting against Irving this season. In the two previous matchups, Rondo did not play because of a wrist injury suffered against Toronto on Jan. 18. Irving is averaging 22 points in the two games against the Celtics, which includes the game-winner in an 88-87 win at the Garden on Jan. 29.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass makes his return after missing the last six games with a left knee injury. Of course his 11.6 points per game will help. But his presence should also provide a boost to other Celtics -- namely Allen and Paul Pierce -- having better shots at the basket, and thus leading to a Celtics team that puts up a lot more points.

"Brandon is now a part of a lot of what we do," Allen told CSNNE.com. "We count on him . . . I think he's a great scorer. But he's under-rated in some of the other things that he can do."

STAT TO TRACK -- Controlling, or at the very least competing for, offensive boards will be huge for the Celtics. In each of the previous two games against Cleveland, the C's were minus-6 on the offensive glass. The struggles that night on the offensive boards mirrored a major problem for Boston all season. Boston is minus-103 this season on the offensive boards, easily the worst offensive rebounding team in the NBA. In fact, no other NBA team has allowed even 80 more offensive rebounds than they were able to grab. And in Cleveland, you're talking about the second-best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, with 13.2 per game. However, the Cavs will be without Anderson Varejao (right wrist fracture) who had 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds (10 were offensive) in their last meeting on Jan. 31.

Andrew Benintendi leads Red Sox past Nationals in 8-1 win

Andrew Benintendi leads Red Sox past Nationals in 8-1 win

Andrew Benintendi excelled in his early-game action against Nationals starter Joe Ross in the Red Sox' 8-1 win. Benintendi finished the contest 2 of 2 with a triple and two RBIs. Dustin Pedroia helped Benintendi at the top of the lineup. Pedroia was 2 of 2 with a double and two RBIs.

Kyle Kendrick got the Red Sox pitching staff off to a strong start in his four-inning appearance. The 32-year-old righty had six strikeouts and allowed five hits with one earned run. Kendricks performance should ease some anxiety in Boston, as Drew Pomeranz headed to the disabled list.

Reliever Ben Taylor, 24, pitched the final two innings for the Sox, and had four strikouts with three hits allowed and no runs.

Chris Sale will pitch Friday for the Red Sox at 4:05 a.m against the Nationals.

Hernandez's fiancee: I learned to keep my mouth shut and not ask questions

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Hernandez's fiancee: I learned to keep my mouth shut and not ask questions

BOSTON -- Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez's fiancee testified in his double-murder trial Thursday that she learned to keep her mouth shut and "not to ask any questions" in certain situations.

Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez testified against Hernandez under a grant of immunity from prosecutors. She and Hernandez have a 4-year-old daughter. She said she took Hernandez's last name in 2015.

Hernandez is accused of fatally shooting two men in Boston in July 2012 after an encounter at a Boston nightclub. He is also charged with witness intimidation in the shooting of Alexander Bradley, allegedly to silence him about the killings.

Jenkins-Hernandez repeatedly said she could not recall details about conversations with Hernandez after the 2012 killings and after Bradley's shooting in 2013.

She said she didn't ask Hernandez for details about Bradley's shooting, even though Hernandez and Bradley were close friends.

"[Bradley] was not my friend . . . Yes, it's a sad situation [but] why should I press about something like that?" she said.

Jenkins-Hernandez also said she did not recall getting a call from Hernandez at 2:37 a.m. on July 16, 2012, minutes after prosecutors say Hernandez shot Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado as they sat in a car at a stop light in Boston. Prosecutors said phone records show a 17-second call from Hernandez to her at that time.

Hernandez has denied shooting the men. His lawyer told the jury during opening statements that Bradley shot the men over a drug deal.

Bradley testified he saw Hernandez shoot the men. He also said Hernandez shot him in the face months later after he made a remark about the Boston shootings.

Hernandez is already serving a life sentence after being convicted in the 2013 killing of a man who was dating the sister of Jenkins-Hernandez.