There is no escaping the hype surrounding Thursdays match up between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls.
The Celtics are calling it another regular-season game -- thats what it is, after all -- but there is hardly anything regular about this duel. Not with five games to go before the playoffs.
The Celtics (54-23) head into Chicago three games behind the Bulls (57-20) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls have won four in a row and are 8-2 over their last 10 games. The Celtics, meanwhile, are 6-4 during that stretch and are looking to finish out the season strong.
They made a statement on Tuesday by beating the Philadelphia 76ers, a possible first-round opponent, by 17 points. Whoever wins Thursdays game will make a statement in a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
The Celtics currently hold a 2-1 lead on the regular-season series, winning their first two games at the TD Garden by an average of 8.5 points. But, facing the Bulls on the road on the tail end of a back-to-back without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics lost their most recent match up by 11.
Since the January 8 loss, the Celtics have gone 26-15 while the Bulls have been 33-8.
Its going to be tough, but weve just got to go out there and play our game, said Jeff Green. We know theyre going to come out. Its going to be like Game One of a playoff series, trying to get to the Finals. Thats how its going to be. Weve just got to come out and make sure were focused on the defensive end and make sure were ready to play.
Two players who will undoubtedly will ready for this game are point guards Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. Rose has scored twice as many points as Rondo (24.7 to 11.7), while Rondo has doubled Rose in assists (12.7 to 6.3). They are nearly identical in rebounds, but Rose has attempted 26 free throws while Rondo has taken just two.
Im always ready for a match up like that, said Rondo. This year has been tough as far as the point guard position. Every night its another point guard . . . Youve got Derrick Rose, John Wall, each night you have to bring it at the point guard position. Theres no nights off.
The Celtics will focus on the Bulls first without thinking ahead to their games against the Washington Wizards on Friday and Miami Heat on Sunday. With only three games separating them from home court advantage in the East, they are approaching the remainder of the season one night at a time.
We want all these games, said Kevin Garnett. All these games are important to us right now. Not just against the Chicagos and the Miamis. The Washingtons, the Phillys, these are huge games for us.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter athttp:twitter.comjcameratoNBA