Celtics-Bulls matchup a possible playoff preview

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Celtics-Bulls matchup a possible playoff preview

By JessicaCamerato
CSNNE.com

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

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights as the Boston Celtics are able to hold off the Miami Heat and get the win 112-108 at the TD Garden.

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

BOSTON -- Location, location, location.

The Boston Celtics are seemingly where they want to be following their 112-108 win Sunday night over Miami, a victory that put the Celtics (48-26, .649 winning percentage) in a virtual tie with defending NBA champ Cleveland (47-25, .652).

But position means very little without purposeful play, something the Celtics are gradually doing more of than not.

And because of that, they find themselves one strong finish to the season away from going into the playoffs with the top overall record in the East for the first time since 2008 -- the year they brought home Banner 17.

While few anticipate the Celtics will advance to the NBA Finals, they have at least positioned themselves to have a shot at making a good run during the postseason if they can secure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The last time the top overall top seed in the East failed to make it past the first round was in 2012 when the Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, a series that was marred by injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah that created a much smoother pathway for the upstart Sixers to move on to the second round where they were defeated by Boston in seven games.

And while the players have tried to downplay the significance of landing the top seed in the East, there’s no question it’s something that they know all too well is within their reach.

Cleveland has a much tougher schedule to close out the season, one that includes a Monday night matchup at San Antonio against a Spurs team that’s fighting for the top spot out West.

The Celtics players have talked often about wanting to be in the best position possible going into the playoffs.

Having the top seed?

Yup.

That’ll do it.

And while Celtics players were aware of where the team was in relation to Cleveland, being tied for the top spot with the Cavs isn’t something that Boston is getting too giddy about right now.

“We hear it, but that wasn’t our focus [against Miami],” said Marcus Smart. “Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the playoffs.”

Coach Brad Stevens said not a word was spoken in the locker room after Sunday’s win about the team now being in a virtual tie with the Cavs.

“I think -- I talked about this earlier --obviously the guys, because they get . . . most of them. to be honest, because they’re asked so much, some of them obviously have already said they watch it pretty closely,” Stevens said. “But I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, it’s about playing as well as we can . . . ' ”

That and location, location, location.