Celtics-Wolves preview: Keep your eye on . . .

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Celtics-Wolves preview: Keep your eye on . . .

MINNEAPOLIS The Boston Celtics (28-22) are focused on winning as many games as possible to improve their playoff position. And while most players shrug off the notion that they're keeping tabs on what other team's are doing, once again we turn to Paul Pierce for - what else? - the Truth. He doesn't try to hide the fact that he knows the Celtics are in a back-and-forth tussle with Philadelphia for the best record in the Atlantic Division - and with it, home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Both are currently tied for the best record in the Atlantic Division.

"I follow it religiously," said Pierce, who added that he's constantly checking various websites for up-to-the-minute statistics and game accounts. "I'm always checking the scores, even during the games, in the middle, checking out who's winning. I'm just a basketball junkie; it's something I live, and I'm sure the other guys probably do the same things I do and are very aware of it."

Even if they don't want to admit to it!

And while much has been made of the C's playing tougher competition down the stretch than Philadelphia - tonight the C's face a playoff contender in Minnesota while the Sixers are on the road against a horrible Washington team - Boston refuses to put much stock into such talk.

"Every team's tough," C's coach Doc Rivers said. "The way we look at it, every team's a playoff team because we make them that or they are. So we just have to stay focused each game."

Maintaining that focus will certainly be put to the test tonight against a Minnesota squad that's fighting to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 - the longest postseason drought of any current NBA team.

Here are some of the keys to tonight's action.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR As much as rebounding is an issue for the Celtics, it won't do them much good if they do a good job on the boards and don't get out and take advantage of scoring opportunities in transition. The C's average 12.2 points per game in fast break points, which ranks 19th in the NBA. But in Minnesota, they're facing one of the most "fast-break friendly" teams in the NBA. Timberwolves opponents are averaging 16.2 fast-break points per game which ranks 29th in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Kevin Love: The face of franchise past meets the face of franchise present in this duel. The Love-for-league-MVP chatter might have seemed a pipe dream a couple weeks ago, but it isn't that big a stretch now. He's averaging 26.3 points and 13.9 rebounds, numbers the NBA hasn't seen since Moses Malone averaged 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds during the 1981-1982 season which, by the way, ended with Malone being named league MVP. Garnett, who has delivered strong play for the C's at both ends of the floor all season, recently talked about finding added motivation in facing superstars of the future. "Playing against younger talent that's supposed to be prolific and supposed to be above-average but I'm old though, you know?" said Garnett, who was speaking about talented, young players in general and not specifically Kevin Love. "It don't take much to motivate me."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has been quietly putting together one of the greatest seasons by a Celtics playmaker ever. He comes into tonight's game with double-digit assists in 11 straight games, a franchise record. He had a nine-game stretch last year. To put his numbers in perspective, no Celtics player prior to Rondo had ever had more than seven straight double-digit assist games.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Timberwolves off the free throw line will be huge for the Celtics tonight. Minnesota averages 25.6 free throw attempts per game which ranks sixth in the league. And when you throw in the fact that they rank in the top 10 in free throw percentage (77.9 percent, ninth in the NBA), the C's can't bank on them missing too many.

First impressions of Red Sox’ 2-1 loss to Rays

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First impressions of Red Sox’ 2-1 loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First Impressions from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field:

 

* When the guy who was 0-for-34 produces the go-ahead RBI, it's probably not your day.

The Red Sox and Rays were tied 1-1 in the seventh when Steven Souza Jr. singled to lead off the inning. That brought Mikie Mahtook, hitless in his last 34 at-bats to the plate.

Naturally, Mahtook roped a line-drive double to left field, scoring Souza all the way from first base. It was that kind of day for the Red Sox, who were 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and stranded five baserunners.

For a team that still leads the majors in runs scored, the Red Sox have shown an uncanny ability to go cold at the plate.

On Thursday afternoon, that happened again, while the most unlikely hero for Tampa Bay came through in an improbable spot.

 

* The Red Sox' struggles with the bases loaded is almost comical.

It happened again.

In the sixth inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases with no out. Mookie Betts then hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring one run. Hanley Ramirez then walked, re-loading the bases, this time with one out.

But Jackie Bradley Jr. then swung at the first pitch and hit into an inning-ending, rally-killing 4-6-3 double play.

In two plate appearances with the bases loaded, the Sox failed to get a hit.

The Sox are hitting .216 with the bases loaded (24-for-111), ranking them 14th in the American League. Only Seattle and Detroit have had more bases-loaded opportunities, and yet the Red Sox rank in the second half in runs scored in such situations.

 

* Drew Pomeranz is showing no signs of innings fatigue

True, Pomeranz failed to provide a shutdown inning in the sixth after the Red Sox had gotten him a run in the top of the inning.

Still, Pomeranz pitched into the seventh and allowed just two runs while striking out a season-high 11 batters.

In his past five starts, he's compiled a 2.37 ERA, and both the power to his fastball and the sharpness to his curve offer no evidence that he's hit any sort of wall despite already establishing a career high at the major league level with five weeks remaining in the season.