Blakely's Celtics-Wizards preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Wizards preview

BOSTON It seems whenever the Boston Celtics have been parched for a win this season, the Washington Wizards have proven to be the perfect thirst quencher. After a 1-3 start, back-to-back games against the Wizards brought the C's to .500 status. A stretch in which Boston lost six of seven games was turned around after a win over Washington triggered a four-game winning streak.

So here are the Celtics coming off a tough 99-86 loss at Philadelphia on Friday, and they're once again looking for the Wizards to be the perfect remedy for what ails them.

Even though the C's have dominated the head-to-head series this year, a victory tonight will be much tougher to come by.

Mickael Pietrus suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the Sixers loss. He told CSNNE.com that he's unlikely to play tonight, and wasn't sure if he would be able to play Monday at Charlotte.

"I still have some dizziness, and feel weak," he told CSNNE.com on Saturday. "But I know it could have been a lot worse."

In addition, the C's don't know for sure if Ray Allen (left ankle) will play, an injury that kept him out of the lineup in the Sixers loss. Although Avery Bradley's ankle sprain isn't expected to keep him off the floor tonight, with injuries and the Celtics this year . . . you just never know how long anyone will be sidelined.

Health will certainly be a factor in tonight's outcome. Here are a few other factors that should come into play as the Celtics look for a season sweep, their first four-game season sweep of Washington since 1982.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Lately, Boston has been surprisingly efficient offensively to start games. In their last two games, the Celtics have averaged 33.5 points per game in the first quarter, a significant bump over their 22.7 points per game average, 26th in the NBA, that they have scored in the first this season. In Washington, Boston faces a Wizards team that has had its struggles defensively in every quarter. But their first quarter scoring defense (25.3 points per game, No. 24 in the NBA) is actually their best in terms of where it ranks compared to the rest of the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Nene: This is where Garnett's ability to stretch a defense with his perimeter shooting skills comes in handy. Nene is a strong, bullish big man who is known to have his problems with bigs who can stretch the floor like Garnett. However, Nene seems to have adjusted nicely to a Wizards system that's built more for what he does best -- score with his back to the basket. In his three games with Washington since being traded from Denver, Nene has averaged 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds -- both better than his numbers with the Nuggets.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Although his numbers might suggest something different, Marquis Daniels is gradually getting back to being a contributor to the Celtics' second unit. With Mickael Pietrus (concussion) expected to not play in the next couple games, along with Ray Allen (left ankle) questionable, Daniels may in fact see his role expand soon. After having played a total of 19 minutes this month, Daniels has played 20 minutes in each of the Celtics' last two games. In those two games, he has averaged 7 points and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 55.6 percent from the field.

STAT TO TRACK -- With the Celtics thin on bodies, keep an eye on team fouls for both teams. This season, Boston is committing 20.2 fouls per game which ranks in the league's bottom-10, at No. 21. Fortunately for Boston, they face a Washington team that's used to being in foul trouble as well. They too are ranked among the NBA's bottom-10, averaging 21.5 fouls per game which ranks No. 26 in the league.

Patriots third-rounder Rivers takes winding road to Foxboro

Patriots third-rounder Rivers takes winding road to Foxboro

FOXBORO -- There was not much room for debate as far as this was concerned: Derek Rivers was among the most physically-impressive defensive ends in a draft class loaded at that position.

That begs the question, then, how did the Patriots have the opportunity to draft Rivers at No. 83 overall in the third round? 

The short answer is that he went to Youngstown State, an FCS school, and those players usually don't come off the board early.

But that answer only leads to more questions, as in, how did someone with the athleticism Rivers possesses end up at Youngstown in the first place? And why did he stay?

At 6-foot-4, 248 pounds Rivers was among the top defensive line performers at this year's combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds, which was good for fourth at his position group. His 30 bench reps of 225 pounds were also fourth among defensive linemen, and tied him with Solomon Thomas (the No. 3 overall pick who weighed 273 pounds in Indy).

Rivers also checked in with the ninth-best broad jump for defensive linemen (123 inches), the fifth-best vertical (35 inches), and the third-best three-cone drill (6.94 seconds).

Those kinds of athletes don't typically end up at Youngstown State. They usually end up a couple hundred miles down the road in Columbus.

"Out of high school, I was a non-qualifier, so I didn’t get my SATs, and then I was just a late bloomer," said Rivers, who was 182 pounds near the end of his sophomore year in high school, according to Vindy.com. "I wasn’t very heavily recruited so I went to Fork Union [Military Academy] and then Youngstown came and they offered me. I was just ready to play ball."

Rivers may have been able to head to a bigger program after emerging for Youngstown as a sophomore with 14 sacks (fifth in FCS that year) and 17 tackles for a loss. But he stayed, and he continued to dominate. As a junior he had eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. As a senior he had 14 sacks and a whopping 19.5 tackles for loss.

Feeling devoted to the program that gave him a chance, Rivers remained and had the opportunity to work under coach Bo Pelini for each of the last two seasons. 

Pelini, a former Nebraska head coach and former Patriots linebackers coach under Pete Carroll (1997-99), may have in a roundabout way helped Rivers land in New England. Pelini and Bill Belichick seem to have a good relationship -- Belichick is now coaching two of Pelini's former players in Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead -- and Belichick referenced the coaching Rivers received under Pelini as one of the reasons why Rivers is ready for the NFL. 

When asked about Pelini during his conference call with Patriots reporters, Rivers seemed to agree. 

"Bo was awesome, man. He was like another father to me as far as when he came to Youngstown," Rivers said. "I mean, he took our team to another level. Just the little things that he focused on as far as accountability, doing all the little things right. I mean, those were the things that Bo emphasized, and those were the things that Bo instilled in me."

Rivers added: "The first thing that Coach Bo said in his first meeting with us when he got to Youngstown was that he was like, ‘What you do off the field is going to reflect on how you play on the field.’

"I was a non-qualifier in high school. At Youngstown, I’m probably going to graduate with a 3.0, and it makes sense. If you’re lazy off the field, you’re going to be lazy on the field. If you miss assignments in class, you may miss assignments on the field, so they translate."

Even though even though he's not coming from Alabama or Florida State, even though he took a bit of a circuitous route to get there, in his first night with the team Rivers sure sounded like someone who's been on the fast track to Foxboro for years.

Celtics-Wizards series begins on Sunday at 1:00pm

Celtics-Wizards series begins on Sunday at 1:00pm

The Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards will begin their semi-final series on Sunday, April 30 at 1:00pm.

CSN will get you ready with Pregame Live at noon, and will wrap up the action on Postgame Live immediately following the game.

The complete schedule (all times Eastern)

GAME 1 -- Sunday, April 30 at Boston, 1:00PM (ABC)

GAME 2 -- Tuesday, May 2 at Boston, 8:00PM (TNT)

GAME 3 -- Thursday, May 4 at Washington, 8:00PM (ESPN)

GAME 4 -- Sunday, May 7 at Washington, 6:30PM (TNT)

xGAME 5 -- Wednesday, May 10 at Boston, TBD (TNT)

xGAME 6 -- Friday, May 12 at Washington, TBD (ESPN)

xGAME 7 -- Monday, May 15 at Boston, 8:00PM (TNT)