Celtics-Raptors: Keep your eye on...

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Celtics-Raptors: Keep your eye on...

TORONTO The Boston Celtics are riding a four-game winning streak, playing the kind of basketball you want with the playoffs just two weeks away. The Toronto Raptors are gearing up for another trip to the NBA lottery in which they will once again fail to make the playoffs. It's the kind of game that, on paper, the Celtics should have no problem winning.

Although we haven't seen much of it lately, the C's have shown a knack for playing both up -- and down -- to their level of competition.

And that in itself makes tonight's game a dangerous one for Boston.

Celtics guard Avery Bradley doesn't expect the C's to take the Raptors -- or any non-playoff team at this point in the season -- too lightly.

"No matter what team, we're still going to play hard," Bradley told CSNNE.com. "We're still playing against good teams even if they don't go to the playoffs. We just have to come in, no letdown, and just continue to play the same way we've been lately. Not only that, but we need to improve, improve for the playoffs."

Because of the condensed schedule -- tonight will be the first of three games in three nights for the C's against teams out of the playoff race -- the Celtics understand the importance of taking out teams as quickly as possible to rest the starters and give the backups a chance to get up and down the floor.

The Celtics have won nine of their last 11 games. In those nine wins, six have come by double digits which has allowed the C's to play their bench more than usual.

"We need to improve for the playoffs," Bradley said. "As a team, there's a lot of things we need to work on seeing as though we don't practice much. We need games, so we need to keep taking steps forward and not taking steps back."

Not looking past the Raptors will certainly be a contributing factor to tonight's game. Here we take a look at some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics look to win their fifth in a row and move one step closer toward locking up the Atlantic Division and securing home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR For all that has gone wrong for the Raptors this year, they have been a decent team defensively. Teams are averaging 94.9 points per game against them, which ranks 14th in the NBA. More impressive is that they are not allowing teams to get off a ton of shots against them. Opponents average 77.8 field goal attempts against them this season, which ranks No. 3 in fewest field goals allowed. But the problem is that often teams don't need to make a lot of shots, because the few shots they are taking do in fact go in. Boston takes the fewest number of shots (77) per game in the NBA, but they rank fifth in field goal percentage (46 percent).

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Amir Johnson: One of the most under-rated parts of the Celtics' run of late has been the defense and rebounding of Brandon Bass. The mid-range jumper is going to be there all the time, but it has been his ability to hold his own on the boards and not allow guys to score at will on him, that's helping the Celtics finish out the regular season strong. Johnson will start in place of Andrea Bargnani (calf), but has been with the first group for 37 games this year. He's more of an energy guy who feeds off of put-back baskets and tip-ins. Because so much of his game is about effort and not execution per se, Bass has to limit Johnson's ability to make multiple effort plays.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Mickael Pietrus looked good on Wednesday with eight points and six rebounds in just under 29 minutes - a lot more productive than most would have thought considering he hadn't played since March 23 due to a concussion. After showing no post-concussion symptoms, the C's and Pietrus are hoping to just continue building off of that game and develop a nice rhythm heading into the playoffs later this month.
STAT TO TRACK: Prepare to see the Boston Celtics spend a lot of time at the free throw line tonight. Attacking the basket off the dribble is always a goal of the Celtics, well aware that it generates more free throw attempts which for a good free throw shooting team like the C's, creates easy opportunities to score. But they'll likely get an assist or two in their effort tonight against Toronto, which averages an NBA-high 23.4 personal fouls committed per game. Not surprisingly, that has led to a plethora of free throw attempts by opponents. According to NBA.comstats, the Raptors are allowing opponents to shoot an NBA-high 27 free throw attempts per game.

Mookie Betts' injury likely just a short-term issue

Mookie Betts' injury likely just a short-term issue

BOSTON -- After leaving Friday night’s game with right knee soreness, structural damage has been ruled out regarding Mookie Betts, but he could still be out for a bit.

Testing was done on Betts’ knee, removing any doubt of a deeper issue, revealing it was just build-up of fluid, causing swelling in his knee.

“Day-to-day is the status. It may take a couple for him before he’s back to us.” John Farrell said. “Everything points to this being a short-term situation.”

Betts explained that his condition had improved from Friday night, but -- much like Farrell -- doesn’t know how quickly he can bounce back. He wouldn’t make a definitive statement on whether or not he’d be available Sunday.

“It feels pretty good now,” Betts said. “We’re going to do some treatment on it, make sure everything is good and hopefully get back out there.”

Betts joins the list of pivotal players unavailable in Saturday’s game, including Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara who are both on the DL.

Farrell couldn’t commit to a timetable for when he expects Uehara should be back, but hopes he’ll be available during the regular season.

“We’re hopeful of that,” Farrell said when asked if he thought Uehara would be back before the postseason. “There’s no number of day’s that says Koji’s going to put a ball back in his hand . . . To give you a time frame, it’s too early to tell.”

Kimbrel, on the other hand, has bounced back well, and is expected to throw his first bullpen Sunday or Monday. The hope is that he’ll throw twice off the mound before the trip to the West, which would set him up for a simulated game.

“We need to get some PFP involved -- just some change in direction, fielding the position,” Farrell said on Kimbrel. “But in terms of amount of time missed, and that fact that he’s able to as get aggressive right now in long toss. I would think it would be on the shorter end of appearances if it’s even more than one. He feels very good. If he wasn’t making the ultimate decision medically [he’d] probably say ‘Give me the ball tonight.’ That’s how good he feels -- that’s encouraging.”

 

Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

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Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

While much of the focus is going to be on the young D-men headed into Bruins training camp, it would be foolhardy to overlook a forward prospect Danton Heinen, who is in position for a real dark horse run at an NHL roster spot. 

The strong odds are that the former University of Denver star is going to be begin the season in the AHL for the Providence Bruins after putting up a couple of points in four games there at the end of last season.

Still, that certainly hasn’t stopped Heinen from setting his sights on an NHL spot out of this fall’s camp, most likely in a third- or fourth-line capacity to start things off, or perhaps at the top-six right wing spots that have given the Bruins some problems filling permanently over the past couple of seasons.

Either way, the 2014 fourth-round pick knows that his clock to fulfilling his dreams as an NHL player has started and that it’s up to him when he can start making that a reality.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to work toward my whole life, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better, have a good rest of the summer and then put my best foot forward to see what happens,” said Heinen, who had an assist and a sweet goal in the Friday scrimmage at development camp when he twisted D-man Cam Clarke around like a pretzel on a nifty rush to the net. “I just need to continue to get stronger this summer, and working on my skating to get a bit quicker.

“[The AHL] was a lot of fun to get in there and see what it was all about. It was a lot different than college hockey, and it was definitely good to get a taste of it. [Bruins officials] told me to have a really big summer getting faster and getting stronger, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Heinen, 21, continued to show in development camp last week, however, that he has the playmaking skills and hockey IQ to flourish while surrounded by more accomplished players and in tighter situations. It’s exactly what he showed while posting 36 goals and 93 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons for the Pioneers and it was what he showed while finishing last week as one of the best forwards in camp.

“He’s looked really good at [development] camp. He’s a smart player, he’s committed and I think you’ll notice him in training camp. It will be up to him, but I think he’ll definitely be pushing some guys [for an NHL job],” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo, who was running the Bruins development camp. “He looked good [in Providence]. He fit in well. He’s the type of player that can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ, and he’s got really good skill.

“Anywhere you put him he’s smart enough to figure it out. You could tell in his first game there was a little bit of an adjustment for him, but the second time game it really looked like he’d been playing [at that level] for a long time. He’s a quick study, and he looked really good last year.”

The Black and Gold management hope he continues to look good at main NHL training camp in a couple of months, where he’ll undoubtedly be featured, and could be a lot closer than many people think as a polished skill forward coming out of a big-time college hockey program. 

Saturday's Red Sox-Twins lineups: Betts out with knee soreness

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Saturday's Red Sox-Twins lineups: Betts out with knee soreness

Mookie Betts is out of the lineup Saturday after leaving the game Friday night with knee soreness and Brock Holt moves into the leadoff spot for the Red Sox in Game 3 of their four-game series with the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park.

Manager John Farrell said Betts is day-to-day after the right fielder left the Red Sox' 2-1 loss in the fifth inning with pain in his right knee. There is swelling, but an MRI showed no structural damage.Michael Martinez will start in right on Saturday night. Betts had started in 93 of Boston's 94 games this season. 

Aaron Hill gets the start at third base for the Red Sox in place of Travis Shaw.  

Left-hander David Price (9-7, 4.36 ERA) makes his second start of the second half for the Red Sox. Price took the loss in a 3-1 defeat against the Yankees on Sunday night, allowing 11 hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innnigs. 

Right-hander Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.02) is on the mound for the Twins.

The lineups:

TWINS
Eduardo Nunez SS
Robbie Grossman DH
Miguel Sano 3B
Brian Dozier 2B
Max Kepler RF
Kennys Vargas 1B
Eddie Rosario LF
Kurt Suzuki C
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Ricky Nolasco RHP

RED SOX
Brock Holt LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Aaron Hill 3B
Sandy Leon C
Michael Martinez RF
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David Price LHP