Blakely's Celtics-Heat preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Heat preview

BOSTON It's that time of year when NBA teams like the Boston Celtics are trying to fine-tune their lineup and clean up a few areas so that they can be ready to roll come playoff time.

The C's defense has been strong all season, but head coach Doc Rivers has seen enough cracks of late to be somewhat worried.

"We have played great defense, but I think it's been spurt defense the last three or four games," Rivers said. "I want us to get back to being as solid defensively as we were three or four games ago."

Among the video that the Celtics watched prior to Monday's practice, they saw the minor mistakes and miscues that by themselves don't mean much.

But in a playoff series, every play botched could be the difference between advancing to the next round or heading home early for the summer.

"We could see slippage," Rivers said. "We needed film (on Monday). It's good for us. We needed that."

So would a strong showing tonight against a Miami Heat team that, like the Celtics, will look at various ways to rest players prior to the playoffs. All of the Miami Heat players went through the team's morning shoot-around on Tuesday. As far as who will or will not play, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that will be a game-time decision.

More consistent play defensively will certainly be a factor in tonight's game. Here are some other keys to tonight's game.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR With both teams resting key guys, bench play becomes essential. Scoring against the Celtics has been difficult for most teams this season. But for playoff-bound clubs, bench scoring has indeed been a luxury that few have enjoyed. This season, the Celtics are giving up just 22.5 bench points to playoff-bound teams which ranks second in the NBA. Miami has one of the NBA's better defenses as well, but opposing benches are getting 31.5 points which ranks 15th in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH Udonis Haslem vs. Brandon Bass: Inserting Haslem into the starting lineup gives the Heat some much-needed toughness. However, Bass will be a tough cover for Haslem because of his ability to stretch defenses with his mid-range game. Bass ranks fifth in the NBA in shots taken (273) between 15-19 feet. He's shooting 48.7 percent on those shots, which is better than the four players (Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Russell Westbrook) ahead of him.

PLAYER TO WATCH Mario Chalmers remains a bit of a mystery in terms of his impact on the Heat. For Miami to have the kind of season they envision, they'll need him to become a more consistent threat both as a scorer and as a playmaker. With Rajon Rondo possibly not playing tonight, this will be Chalmers' chance to shine. But if he struggles against the Celtics' second unit players, the C's will have planted yet another seed of doubt in the Heat's head.

STAT TO TRACK The Boston Celtics have had their issues on the boards all season, as have the Miami Heat who rank 18th in the league this season while the C's are dead-last. However, it hasn't been as big an issue for the Heat who are giving up a league-low 39.7 rebounds per game. The C's are better at limiting opponents rebounds as well. Opponents are averaging 43.1 rebounds per game against the C's which ranks 21st in the NBA. Rebounding has been a factor in all three meetings between these two teams. In their first matchup on Dec. 27, Boston lost the game and was out-rebounded, 38-28. In the last two games, both wins for the Celtics, they won the battle of the boards 49-47 and 40-34, respectively.

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)

Bradley still hurting, will miss Celtics game vs. Trail Blazers

Bradley still hurting, will miss Celtics game vs. Trail Blazers

WALTHAM, Mass. – The right Achilles’ strain that has kept Avery Bradley out of five of the Celtics’ past six games, will continue to keep the 6-foot-2 guard sidelined.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will not play Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
 
Stevens added that no additional tests have been taken and the Achilles’ itself is structurally fine.
 
“He’s got a lot of soreness around it, and that’s one of those things you have to be ultra-careful with,” said Stevens, who later added that Bradley would not practice with the team today. “When he [Bradley] came back, he said he felt a lot better, and then he played and the next day he practiced. We didn’t do anything live but he did a lot of cutting and did not feel near as good. That’s why he didn’t play Wednesday.”
 
The absence of Bradley was clearly felt in a 117-106 loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday, a game in which Knicks guard Derrick Rose – the man Bradley would have likely spent defending most of the game – scored 30 points.
 
This season, all-NBA first team defender is  the Celtics’ No. 2 scorer at 17 points per game along with averaging a team-best 6.9 rebounds.
 
In addition, Bradley is shooting a career-best 40.9 percent from 3-point range, as well as dishing out 2.4 assists per game, which also represents a career-high for the 26-year-old.