BOSTON — With so much talk about teams angling for a spot in the top-heavy 2014 NBA draft, there has been one squad noticeably absent from such conversations - the Washington Wizards.
That's because unlike past seasons when they seemingly made one blundering move after another that all but assured them a spot in the NBA lottery, they're actually starting to take the shape of a playoff contender this season.
They come into today's game against Boston with an 11-13 record that includes two straight road wins at New York and Brooklyn, respectively.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been impressed with the overall game of the Wizards, especially the play of point guard John Wall who is making a solid case for earning his first all-star appearance this season.
When asked about Washington's strengths, Stevens immediately spoke about Wall.
"Wall's speed up and down the floor, his ability to put pressure on you at both ends," Stevens said.
Through in their impressive collection of shooters from 3-point range and a solid 1-2 big man tandem of Nene and Marcin Gortat, it adds up to a team that's fighting for the playoffs and not ping-pong balls.
"They look good," Stevens said.
Here are some other keys to today's game.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston is one of the better scoring defenses in the NBA, and they'll need to be that for a win today. The Wizards are averaging 105.9 points when they win. But in losses, Washington is scoring just 92.9 points per game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jordan Crawford vs Bradley Beal: Facing his former team and the player (Beal) who took his minutes, no one would be shocked if Crawford made this a me-against-them kind of game. That would be a huge mistake against Beal who has emerged as one of the NBA's most improved players this season. He comes into today's game averaging a team-best 20.6 points per game
PLAYER TO WATCH: This is one of the few games where Avery Bradley will be matched with a player (John Wall) whose speed is on a comparable level, if not greater. Finding that balance between being an effective scorer while limiting Wall who is averaging 19.1 points per game and 9.1 assists (second in the NBA), will be a tremendous challenge for Bradley.
STAT TO TRACK: The Boston Celtics bench isn't known much for its scoring, so it's rare that they face an opponent whose second unit has point production is even lower. That's exactly what they are facing in a Wizards team whose bench is averaging just 21.2 points per game which ranks 29th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA. However, they have been better of late. In their last three games, they are averaging 37.7 points off the bench which ranks sixth in the league during that span of time. Boston comes in at No. 19 with a 29.3 points per game average from its second unit. And like their Washington brethren, they too have shown significant improvement in their last three games, averaging 35 points from their backups which ranks 12th in the NBA during that period of time.