Celtics vs. Wizards: Keys to the game

649076.jpg

Celtics vs. Wizards: Keys to the game

WASHINGTON When you've struggled the way the Boston Celtics (5-9) have, there's no such thing as a sure win. But facing the Washington Wizards (2-13) comes pretty darn close. Boston has won both of their previous meetings this season, each by eight points. In those games, contributions came from an array of players -- the kind of play we've seen from the C's in past years. But the past will do the Celtics little good today . . . even against the woeful Wizards, who are treading a historically bad run at home.
Here are a few keys to today's game to keep an eye on.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Rebounding, as is the case most nights, will be a huge factor in the game's outcome. Boston has to hold its own on the defensive boards, which, as we've seen, is easier said than done. It becomes a really big issue against the Wizards. Despite all their flaws - and they have plenty - offensive rebounding is the one thing they do pretty well. They come into today's game ranked 10th in offensive rebounds, while the C's are just 26th (out of 30 teams) in defensive rebounds. But the C's haven't been hurt too badly by second-chance points against Washington, which has outscored the Celtics, 26-20, in second-chance points this season.MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs. Chris Singleton. On paper, it seems like a no-brainer to give this to Pierce. But the way he has struggled all season - career lows across the board - combined with Singleton's steadily improving play, this battle has the potential to be a lot closer than most would anticipate.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Ray Allen. He is the one Celtic whom the Wizards have had the most trouble defending. In the two games this season, Allen is averaging a team-best 20 points per game, which includes connecting on 8 of his 12 3-point shots. For Allen to be effective, that means freeing him up for shots - something the Celtics have not done a good job of lately. Allen averages 10.2 shots per game this season. He has failed to get double-digit shot attempts in the last four Celtics games, and five of the last six.
STAT TO TRACK - It's a four quarter game, obviously. But Boston's success - at least thus far this season - is usually known by halftime. The Celtics have only been tied or ahead three times this season at the half. Their record in those games? 3-0.

Market for Encarnacion is shrinking, yet Red Sox still don't seem interested

Market for Encarnacion is shrinking, yet Red Sox still don't seem interested

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- As the annual winter meetings get underway today, the market for arguably the best free-agent hitter may be -- against all logic -- lessening.

Edwin Encarnacion, who has averaged 39 homers a year over the last five seasons, should be a player in demand.

But in quick succession, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, two teams thought to be in the market for Encarnacion, opted to go with older hitters who required shorter deals -- Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.

Further, the Toronto Blue Jays' signing of Steve Pearce to a two-year deal Monday, coupled with their earlier acquisition of Kendrys Morales, closes the door on a potential return to Toronto for Encarnacion.

Seemingly, all of that would position the Red Sox, in search of a DH to replace the retired David Ortiz, to swoop in and land Encarnacion for far less than they could have imagined only weeks ago.

And yet, it appears as though things would have to change considerably for the Red Sox to reach agreement with Encarnacion.

While the first baseman-DH is known to be Ortiz's first choice as his replacement, for now, the economics don't work for the Sox -- even as Enacarnacion's leverage drops.

Encarnacion is expecting a deal of at least four years, with an average annual value around $20 million.

The Red Sox, industry sources indicate, are very much mindful of the luxury tax threshold. The Sox have, however modestly, gone over the threshold in each of the last two seasons, and even with a bump due to last week's new CBA, the Sox are dangerously close to the 2018 limit of $195 million.

Should the Sox go over for a third straight year, their tax would similarly ratchet up.

That, and the fact that Encarnacion would cost the Sox their first-round pick next June -- for this offseason, compensation for players given a qualifying offer comes under the old CBA rules -- represents two huge disincentives.

It's far more likely that the Sox will seek a cheaper option at DH from among a group that includes Pedro Alvarez and Mike Napoli. Neither is in Encarnacion's class, but then again, neither would cost a draft pick in return, or the long-term investment that Encarnacion is said to be seeking.

Rajon Rondo suspended by Bulls for 'heated exchange'

Rajon Rondo suspended by Bulls for 'heated exchange'

Former Celtics and current Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo is up to his old tricks, apparently.

The Bulls have suspended Rondo for Monday’s game due to conduct detrimental to the team, with Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical saying that the suspension is the result of a “heated exchange” the 30-year-old had with a Bulls assistant during or after the team’s 107-82 loss to the Mavericks Saturday. 

Rondo clashing with others is nothing new. He once shattered a television on which the Celtics were showing him game footage to critique him and had to be carried out kicking and screaming by Kevin Garnett. Chris Sheridan reported in 2013 that Doc Rivers had an “intense dislike” for Rondo and that the two almost fought.

After being traded out of Boston, Rondo was suspended for a game by the Mavericks after a shouting match with Rick Carlisle. Last December, he was suspended for calling referee Bill Kennedy a homophobic slur, leading to Kennedy coming out as gay. 

Interestingly enough, there's something of a pattern of Rondo's bigger infractions occuring in games against former teams. The Kennedy incident came in a game against the Celtics, while this recent one was against Dallas. 

This is the first season of a two-year, $28 million Rondo signed with the Bulls in the offseason. He is averaging 8.2 points per game, 7.2 assists per game and 6.7 rebounds a night.