Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Time to 'play right'

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Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Time to 'play right'

CLEVELAND -- The temperature is unusually chilly this time of year -- and it's pretty cold outside, too.

The Boston Celtics are not in a good place right now, in so many areas. Their offense doesn't seem to have a flow to it. There are too many defensive breakdowns. And it's to the point where even the cool-as-they-come Doc Rivers is close to reaching his breaking point with this group.

Rivers could not contain his frustration after a 103-88 loss at Detroit on Sunday, a game in which the Celtics never led.

"I gotta either find the right combination or the right guys, or we're going to get some guys out of here. That's the bottom line," Rivers said at the time. "This group right now, they're not playing right. It's in them to play right."

They will get that chance tonight against a Cleveland team that has had its share of issues all season.

Here are some of the keys to tonight's game, with the Celtics looking to snap a three-game losing streak and avoid slipping below .500 and avoid a second four-game losing streak this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics have not been attacking the lane as much as they should, but that should change tonight. The Cavaliers' interior defense is indeed one of their weaknesses. In fact, Cleveland ranks dead-last in blocked shots (3.5) per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Kyrie Irving. Rondo may be an All-Star starter, but Irving is progressing towards being one of the NBA's better playmakers. And like most young guards in the league, facing Rondo tends to bring out the best in him.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett has been solid of late, but the C's really need him to have one of those dominate performances that he's good for every now and then. Without Anderson Varejao (blood clot, out for the season) in the mix, the chances of Garnett delivering a huge game become much, much greater for the Celtics.

STAT TO TRACK: Ball movement has been an issue for the Cavaliers most of this season, a trend the C's would like to see continue tonight. Cleveland averages just 19.4 assists per game which ranks 29th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics' defense has limited opponents to 21.4 assists per game this season which ranks 12th in the league.

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.