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.

Should the Patriots be Super Bowl favorites?

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Should the Patriots be Super Bowl favorites?

Jeff Howe joins Arbella Early Edition to discuss the New England Patriots still being Super Bowl favorites with Tom Brady being suspended four games.

Farrell: 'Strike-throwing is a priority' for Owens in Triple A

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Farrell: 'Strike-throwing is a priority' for Owens in Triple A

NEW YORK -- Following a six-walk effort Thursday in Chicago, Henry Owens found himself optioned back to Pawtucket Friday, removed from the Red Sox rotation after three sub-par starts.

Owens lasted just three-plus innings Thursday, and allowed two runs. In three starts since being promoted to replace Joe Kelly in the Red Sox rotation, Owens walked 13 in 12 1/3 innings while allowing 13 hits for a ghastly 2.108 WHIP and a 5.11 ERA.

"Henry needs to go back and learn to command his fastball with more consistency,'' said John Farrell. "He's got an outstanding changeup that can get him back in some counts and get him away from some damage. But the strike-throwing is a priority here.''

In addition to wildness, Owens saw his velocity dip, with his fastball topping out at 90 mph most times.

But Farrell insisted there isn't a physical issue with the lefty.

"One thing that we can for sure rule out is health,'' said Farrell. "There's no health issues at play here. I think when a pitcher's delivery is not in sync, he's not getting the most power out of it (in terms of velocity). And then, with the strike throwing, it becomes a confidence factor. I don't want to say he was tentative or it was a lack of aggressiveness, but I think when you're feeling for pitches to try to get them in the strike zone, there might be a tentativeness that takes over.''

Owens has a quality changeup that can throw off hitters' timing and get weak contact, as happened Thursday night. But that pitch is only effective when he can set it up more with his fastball.

"That creates a little more margin for error,'' said Farrell of the changeup as a weapon, "but you've got to be in the strike zone first.''

Owens seemed to regress some from last year, when he was 4-4 in 11 starts with a 4.57 ERA. He pitched into the eighth inning in three straight starts in September.

"It's the second time he's been in the big leagues with us,'' said Farrell. "When the opportunity presents, you take it and run with it. I felt last year, he pitched effectively. He pitched very good at times. There were a couple of starts where he didn't have his best stuff, but he found his way into the sixth or into the seventh inning. That was (what we were hoping for) last year. OK, he's battling but he's finding a way to get through it.

"As far as his opportunity, I'm sure he'll back to us at some point.''

Asked if the Red Sox had expected more from Owens, Farrell didn't mince words.

"Based on what he showed at this level last year, yes,'' said Farrell.

Owens was replaced on the roster by Sean O'Sullivan, who was with the club here Friday afternoon and in the bullpen, at least temporarily.

He could take Owens's spot in the rotation Tuesday.

"He's a candidates, yes,'' said Farrell.

O'Sullivan is with his fifth different organization, having pitched with the Angels, Royals, Padres and Phillies.

He signed with the Red Sox last winter as a free agent, in part attracted by the presence of pitching coordinator Brian Bannister, a one-time teammate of O'Sullivan with the Royals. Bannister has taken an innovative, analytical approach to pitching and has already helped O'Sullivan.

"When he was in (spring training) camp,'' said Farrell, "he showed more arm strength than anticipated. The strike-throwing has been above-average for him. A veteran guy who's pitched at this level for extended outings. We felt like that dependability and durability were also a factor in getting him here.''

Farrell credited an improved cutter and "more consistent location down in the strike one,'' accounting for O'Sullivan's improved results at Triple A.

O'Sullivan wasn't on the 40-man roster until Friday, when he was added. The Sox shifted third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the 60-day DL to make room.