Source: Getty Images North America

Preview: Celtics at Raptors

Two of the top Eastern Conference contenders square off for the fourth and final time in the regular season when the Toronto Raptors host the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. The Celtics won the two matchups in Boston while the Raptors also protected home court with a 113-101 win on Oct. 19.

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Toronto played without All-Star small forward Kawhi Leonard (rest) during Sunday’s 113-98 home loss to the Orlando Magic as its seven-game winning streak came to a halt. “Just never really got in a rhythm,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters. “They made some big shots every time we thought we were right where we needed to be.” Boston has dropped four of its last six games after being humbled 126-116 by the host Chicago Bulls on Saturday. “We just got outplayed in every which way,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “There are no two ways around it. You know, credit them obviously. Once they got rolling, there was no stopping them.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT, NBCS Boston, Sportsnet One (Toronto)

ABOUT THE CELTICS (37-23): Star point guard Kyrie Irving has been frustrated with his team’s play in recent weeks but was more measured after contributing 37 points and 10 assists in the setback against the Bulls. “It’s basketball, so we’ve got some figuring out to do,” Irving told reporters after the team’s second straight loss. “Go back, watch film. Obviously, some effort plays where we really could’ve covered for one another and just execution on both ends of the floor. Being able to give each other space, make basketball plays, read plays, just play the game at a high level. Obviously, these last two games, we haven’t done that at the level we’ve been capable of. We have to continue to do better.” Small forward Gordon Hayward scored just five points in 24 minutes against Chicago after missing one game with an ankle injury.

ABOUT THE RAPTORS (44-17): The startling loss to Orlando dropped Toronto to 13-4 when playing without Leonard and Nurse said that the game falling in between Friday’s emotional game with the San Antonio Spurs — Leonard’s former team — and the Celtics was why it was picked to rest him. The plan didn’t work with the Magic holding the Raptors to 15 first-quarter points and being the sharper team throughout the contest. Power forward Serge Ibaka scored 14 points off the bench to extend his career-long streak of consecutive games in double digits to 22.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Irving is averaging 30.3 points against the Raptors this season, including a season-high 43 in a 123-116 overtime win on Nov. 16.

2. Boston reserve PG Terry Rozier is just 5-of-26 shooting over his past three games.

3. Toronto PG Kyle Lowry had 19 points and 10 assists against Orlando for his 16th double-double of the season.

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Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Source: SL / Getty Images North America

Preview: Celtics at Bucks

The Boston Celtics were the preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference but are instead fighting for homecourt advantage while the Milwaukee Bucks run away with the top spot. The Bucks will try to assert their dominance over the rest of the top competitors in the East once again when they host the Celtics on Thursday.

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Milwaukee is 7-3 against the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston and breezed into the All-Star break with wins in 14 of the last 16 games behind All-Star captain Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” scored 38 points on 17-of-23 shooting in a losing effort in Sunday’s All-Star Game but remains an MVP candidate and took the Bucks into the break by collecting 33 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists in a 106-97 win at the Pacers. The Celtics were well-represented during the All-Star festivities as point guard Kyrie Irving contributed 13 points in 25 minutes to Team LeBron’s 178-164 win over Team Giannis and second-year forward Jayson Tatum starred in the Rising Stars game before winning the Skills Challenge. Boston won 12 of 15 going into the break and is opening a three-game trip at Milwaukee that will also send it through second-place Toronto.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT THE CELTICS (37-21): Irving sat out the final two games before the All-Star break to rest a sore knee but worked hard to get back for the annual exhibition and get right for the stretch run. “I’m happy. My strength and conditioning coach, my own training staff that I hired myself, every single day has been communication, making sure I can play in the game,” Irving told reporters after the game. “We understand it’s an All-Star Game, but to go up and down before Thursday comes, I’d be a lot worse if that was my first time playing in basically two weeks. Five days in the NBA season is a lot of time. I’m not sure people realize that. Being away from the game, especially if you have to get off your feet. Getting up shots tonight, being around this camaraderie and competition, was good.” Irving, who can become a free agent after the season, is averaging 23.6 points and 6.9 assists.

ABOUT THE BUCKS (43-14): Milwaukee’s big splash at the trade deadline was bringing in power forward Nikola Mirotic in a deal from the New Orleans Pelicans. The 28-year-old, who is averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 36.8 percent from beyond the arc, has been out with a calf injury since Jan. 23 but was on the verge of making his team debut before the break and could play Thursday. Mirotic joins a lineup headlined by Antetokounmpo and fellow All-Star Khris Middleton, who scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 22 minutes for Team Giannis on Sunday.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Celtics PG Terry Rozier (illness) joined Irving on the bench before the break but is expected back Thursday.

2. Bucks C Brook Lopez is 4-of-24 from 3-point range in the last three games.

3. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points in the most recent meeting, a 120-107 Milwaukee win at Boston on Dec. 21.

Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Joel Embiid
Source: Getty Image North America

Preview: Celtics at 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers made significant improvements at last week’s trade deadline and have since played like a team that is headed in the right direction. The Boston Celtics, who visit the 76ers on Tuesday, failed to make any upgrades prior to the deadline and are looking like a team that needed a shake-up.

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After a quiet deadline day last Thursday, the Celtics lost on a buzzer-beater to the Los Angeles Lakers and then blew a 28-point lead before falling to the Los Angeles Clippers 123-112 on Saturday in a demoralizing defeat. “I mean, for me, it’s not really about the loss,” forward Marcus Morris told reporters in an eye-opening session after the game. “It’s about the attitude that we’re playing with. Guys are hanging their head. It’s just not fun, it’s not fun. We’re not competing at a high level. Even when we’re winning it’s still not fun. I just don’t see the joy in the game.” The sour note cast by Morris stands in stark contrast to what’s going on in Philadelphia, where the Sixers are coming off impressive wins over the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers since making a series of deadline moves. Joel Embiid went off for 37 points and 14 rebounds in Sunday’s 143-120 rout of the Lakers as Philadelphia moved one game ahead of Boston for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT THE CELTICS (35-21): Saturday’s collapse began late in the first half after All-Star guard Kyrie Irving suffered a sprained knee that will leave him on the sidelines Tuesday and potentially Wednesday against Detroit at home. Gordon Hayward had a team-high 19 points off the bench while Irving’s fellow starters combined to shooting 14-for-42 from the floor without their leader. “There’s no excuses,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters of the Irving injury. “Those things happen and we all have to pick up for that. So, I’ll go back and figure out what I can do better, what we can do better, and we’ll go from there.”

ABOUT THE 76ERS (36-20): Embiid was 12-for-16 from the floor in Sunday’s win while newly acquired forward Tobias Harris had 22 points on 9-of-14 in his second game with the team. Point guard Ben Simmons contributed seven assists and stunned the masses with a rare 3-point attempt that rattled in and out, potentially signalling an addition to the dynamic All-Star’s repertoire. “I think just being more aggressive, taking more open shots and just trying to grow my game in that way,” Simmons, who is 0-for-14 in his career beyond the arc, told reporters. “I think I’m getting there. It just takes time, but I’m going to get there.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Celtics took the first two meetings — both at home. Irving scored 40 points in an overtime triumph against the Sixers on Christmas Day.

2. Hayward averages 9.4 points while shooting 25.9 percent from 3-point distance on the road, compared to 11.8 on 36.4 percent at home.

3. Sixers PG T.J. McConnell is 8-for-8 from the floor with zero turnovers in 33 minutes over his last two games.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: LeBron James
Source: Harry How / Getty Image North America

Preview: Lakers at Celtics

The Los Angeles Lakers are at the center of a media circus in front of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, and the rumors seem to be getting to some of the young players on the team. The Lakers might look like a completely different team when they visit the rival Boston Celtics on Thursday.

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Los Angeles is reportedly in hot pursuit of disgruntled New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis to pair with superstar LeBron James and offered up just about every young player on the roster in negotiations, including Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. The rumors left the Lakers looking lifeless at Indiana on Tuesday, when they suffered the worst loss of James’ career 136-94 while Ingram and company were serenaded with “LeBron’s gonna trade you” chants at the free-throw line. The Celtics, who would very much like to get into the Davis trade discussions but have to wait until July 1 to pair him with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, are winners of 10 of their last 11 games and eased past the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-96 on the road Tuesday despite missing Irving, center Aron Baynes and forward Marcus Morris. “That’s what makes us so dangerous, that we have depth in that aspect, where we can bring guys off the bench and we can sit guys, or we can go without guys, and guys are going to step up and have a good game,” Boston guard Marcus Smart told reporters.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT, Spectrum SportsNet (Los Angeles)

ABOUT THE LAKERS (27-27): James sat on the end of the bench with several empty seats between him and the rest of his teammates toward the end of Tuesday’s setback and acknowledged that what the young players are going through isn’t easy. “I know it has to be tough on a lot of our guys, especially our young guys,” James told reporters. “Right now, they’ve just never been a part of it and they’re hearing it every single day — and I know that the worst thing that you can do right now is be on social media. And I know all young guys love social media. So, that definitely can’t help.” The Lakers dropped 13 of 20 games since James went down with a groin injury on Dec. 25 and sit in 10th place in the Western Conference.

ABOUT THE CELTICS (35-19): Boston is not expected to make any big moves in front of Thursday’s deadline and already enjoys enviable depth on a team that took James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals last season. “I think it should stay the same,” Morris told the Boston Herald of the team’s roster. “Guys are playing into what’s going on, (the All-Star Game) is about to pass and that’s when it ramps up. Guys want to play the way they’re supposed to during winning time, like we did last year when the intensity picked up. We should stay the same.” One difference from last season is the health of swingman Gordon Hayward, who is battling some inconsistency but put up 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting, six rebounds and five assists off the bench on Tuesday.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Irving (hip) and Morris (knee soreness) are both day-to-day.

2. James (32,008) became the fifth player in NBA history to reach 32,000 points on Tuesday.

3. The teams split the two meetings last season, with each protecting homecourt.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Kyrie Irving
Source: Adam Glanzman / Getty Image North America

Preview: Raptors at Celtics

The Boston Celtics were swept on a three-game road trip through Miami, Orlando and Brooklyn and return home with questions about the team’s consistency and cohesiveness. Ready to take advantage of the Celtics’ struggles are the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, who visit Boston on Wednesday.

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Celtics star Kyrie Irving suggested after the loss to Orlando that perhaps the team was struggling under the weight of higher expectations and it looked like he was right for over three quarters on Monday until the team found a spark and turned a 27-point deficit into a 109-102 loss to the Nets. Boston will get a chance to figure things out at home with seven of the next eight games in its own arena, where they already own one win over Toronto this season. The Raptors, who dropped a 123-116 overtime decision at the Celtics on Nov. 16, brought their latest winning streak to five straight by outlasting the Washington Wizards 140-138 in double-overtime on Sunday. Star forward Kawhi Leonard collected 41 points and 11 rebounds in the victory and the team earned two full days of rest after asking each starter to log 41 minutes or more.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, TSN (Toronto), NBCS Boston

ABOUT THE RAPTORS (33-12): Leonard was named the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 30.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in three wins, capped by Sunday’s star turn. “Kawhi really led us, took over the game,” point guard Kyle Lowry told reporters. “Some unbelievable rebounding, strongman stuff. He did some strongman stuff.” Lowry picked up his own double-double with 12 points and 11 assists against the Wizards but was 4-of-15 from the floor and is shooting 28.6 percent from 3-point range over the last four games.

ABOUT THE CELTICS (25-18): Irving sat out Monday to rest a sore quadriceps muscle but was in his teammates’ ears after the game, imploring them to find that gear they closed the game with and sustain it. “(If) we play (full) out the whole game we’ll be pretty tough to beat,” Boston forward Jayson Tatum told reporters of Irving’s message. “It’s tough being down 27 and trying to make a comeback in this league. Guys are just too good. It can happen, but it’s very rare. So, we’ve got to start out the gate like that and not dig a hole for ourselves.” Tatum finished with a team-high 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting while Jaylen Brown sprang for 22 points in the loss.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Celtics G Marcus Smart (illness) sat out Monday and is day-to-day.

2. Toronto PG Fred VanVleet missed Sunday’s win with a thigh contusion and is questionable for Wednesday.

3. The home team took each of the last nine in the series.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Kyrie Irving
Source: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images North America

Preview: 76ers at Celtics

The Philadelphia 76ers continue to dominate on their home floor while sometimes struggling for success on the road, a trend that began with an 18-point loss at Boston to begin the season. The Sixers hope some holiday spirit will lift them in a return trip to TD Garden to take on the host Celtics on Christmas Day.

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Philadelphia improved to an NBA-best 16-3 at home by routing Eastern Conference-leading Toronto 126-101 on Saturday, but they carry a 6-9 road mark into the opener of a challenging five-game road trip at Boston, which some see as an opportunity to truly test the team. “…Take it a bit further and look at the month of January,” coach Brett Brown recently told reporters. “It is real and it’s just the way it should be. We love it. We want this. We hope we can extract as much health to perform against that schedule as possible.” The Celtics have their own road trip on he horizon but first hope to finish a four-game homestand all even after dropping the first two games and then topping Charlotte 119-103 on Sunday. Kyrie Irving scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting as Boston snapped a three-game slide.

TV: 5:30 p.m. ET, ABC

ABOUT THE 76ERS (22-12): Center Joel Embiid recorded three straight double-doubles and five in his last six games after producing 27 points and 11 rebounds in the win over the Raptors, and the star big man is looking forward to the spotlight of the holiday affair. “It’s exciting to play on Christmas. It is a showcase day for our league. It is an honor,” Embiid told reporters. “I am not going to go into the rest of my thoughts on playing on Christmas, but it is an honor. You want to play at your best and they are the team that knocked us out of the playoffs this year so we know we have to be at our best to play them.” The 24-year-old had 25 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots in a Christmas Day win at Madison Square Garden last year.

ABOUT THE CELTICS (19-13): The end of Boston’s losing streak occurred in Al Horford’s return from a knee injury, and its was not seen as a coincidence. “You take a lot of comfort in having him out on the floor,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters of Horford, who made all four of his shots and had a plus-19 rating in his 19 minutes after missing the previous seven games. “There’s no question about that.” Boston also got power forward Marcus Morris back from a two-game layoff and the veteran finished with 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds in 20 minutes.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Celtics fell 111-103 to Washington on Christmas last season in the first home game on the holiday in franchise history.

2. Sixers SG JJ Redick made 4-of-5 3-pointers in the win over the Raptors after going 13-for-49 over his previous seven games.

3. Irving averages 23.9 points on 52.9 percent shooting — 46.1 percent from 3-point range — at home.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Knicks at Celtics

The Boston Celtics have won three straight games and figure to be fully refreshed when they host the New York Knicks on Thursday. The Celtics last played Saturday and then had four full days without a game to rest up for the Knicks’ arrival.

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Boston won by an average of 19.7 points during its winning streak and guard Marcus Smart was one of the many players who enjoyed the break in the schedule for a team that played 14 of its first 23 games on the road. “Just to get our bodies back right and to get our minds right and get the focus back and regroup and everything like that,” Smart told reporters of the benefits. “… Sometimes you need that, especially with the schedule we’ve been having and constantly on the go.” The Knicks have lost three of their past four games and were outscored by 15 points in the third quarter of Monday’s 110-107 loss to the Washington Wizards. “We didn’t come out ready,” center Enes Kanter told reporters. “They had more energy and we just couldn’t respond.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT, NBCS Boston

ABOUT THE KNICKS (8-17): Veteran guard Courtney Lee made his season debut against Washington and scored seven points in 16 minutes off the bench. Lee was just thankful to be on the court after suffering a scary neck injury during a preseason practice when he collided with teammate Ron Baker. “It felt good to be honest, because (my teammates) have seen the battle that I was going up against,” Lee told reporters. “They saw how I came in the first day that it happened. I couldn’t move my whole upper body. So it felt good to be able to be back out there because I was definitely nervous that it could have been a career-ending injury. It felt good to have my guys behind me.”

ABOUT THE CELTICS (13-10): Small forward Gordon Hayward displayed his former All-Star form in Saturday’s 118-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves when he posted season highs of 30 points and eight assists and matched his season best of nine rebounds. Hayward was off to a slow start in his return from a horrific broken left ankle suffered in last season’s opener but flashed his former outside shooting prowess (4-of-5 from 3-point range) and ability to get to the line (10-of-10) against the Timberwolves. “It’s slowly coming along. I think my confidence is slowly coming back, too,” Hayward told reporters. “I’m still not where I want to be, but for sure, me attacking is better for our team and not being hesitant or passive.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The squads have split two meetings this season with the road team winning each time.

2. Boston SG Jaylen Brown (back) is hopeful of playing after missing the previous three games.

3. New York G Trey Burke (knee) will miss his second straight game.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Celtics at Thunder

Star point guard Russell Westbrook looked pretty solid in his season debut but there wasn’t a victory attached to the performance. Westbrook looks to get the Oklahoma City Thunder into the win column for the first time this season when they host the Boston Celtics on Thursday.

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Westbrook had 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in 35 minutes in Sunday’s 131-120 loss to the Sacramento Kings in his first game since undergoing knee surgery on Sept. 12. “I thought Russell really played well,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters. “I give him a lot of credit. He worked really hard the last five to six weeks to try to get himself ready. For him to come back, being out as long as he was and play like he did – I thought we were faster, I thought we got downhill more, I thought the ball was moving.” The Celtics are beginning a stretch in which seven of nine games are on the road, and they also look to rebound from a disappointing 93-90 home loss to the Orlando Magic on Monday. “I thought we tried to move the ball and get better looks,” Boston small forward Gordon Hayward told reporters. “We’ve gotta be able to get to the line a little bit better, get some stuff at the rim. But they were giving us the 3-ball and we just didn’t have it.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT, FS Oklahoma

ABOUT THE CELTICS (2-2): Boston recorded a season low in points against Orlando, but coach Brad Stevens praised the ball movement – odd with the team hoisting up 40 3-pointers and making just nine. But point guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t dismayed over the low production in a game in which he shot well (22 points on 10-of-19 shooting). “Everyone can get a basket anytime they want,” Irving told reporters. “Anybody can go get it. But if we do the little things and we commit to that, think of how special we could be.”

ABOUT THE THUNDER (0-3): Westbrook said his right knee held up in his season debut but his mood was certainly testy after the double-digit home loss to the Kings. “I was OK,” Westbrook told reporters. “It wasn’t my best night, but I’ve got however many more games left to play, so I’m not worried. It was my first time. I just hate losing. Honestly, I don’t really care to talk about how I played.” Small forward Paul George scored 29 points against Sacramento and is averaging 25.3 points.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Celtics won both of last season’s meetings after the Thunder won 10 of the previous 12 matchups.

2. Boston C Aron Baynes (hamstring) is listed as questionable and could miss his second straight game.

3. Oklahoma City G Alex Abrines (eye) is questionable after being injured against the Kings.

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Cavaliers at Celtics Game 2 Preview

Marcus Morris and his Boston teammates got the best of LeBron James in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals. The second-seeded Celtics look to stymie the Cleveland star for the second consecutive contest when they host the fourth-seeded Cavaliers on Tuesday in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series.

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Morris helped hold James to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting as Boston roared to a 26-point halftime advantage en route to a 108-83 torching of Cleveland in Sunday’s series opener. Morris moved into the starting lineup and had 21 points and 10 rebounds after boasting prior to the opener that he is one of the best in the NBA at defending James. “It’s a team effort, man, it’s not just me,” Morris told reporters after the easy victory. “Everybody played their part in guarding him. He’s obviously the best player in the game, and you need multiple guys and a team to guard him an entire game. I just think we did a great job of that.” Cavaliers veteran swingman Kyle Korver summed up the performance this way: “Bad game, bad first game. There’s lot of things we can do better in the next one.”

TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: James also committed seven turnovers during his porous performance but he said he wasn’t worried about his team trailing in the series. “I have zero level of concern at this stage,” James told reporters. “I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness. You know, you get better throughout the series. You see ways you can get better throughout the series. But I’ve been down 0-1, I’ve been down 0-2, I’ve been down before in the postseason. But for me, there’s never no level of concern, no matter how bad I played tonight with seven turnovers, how inefficient I was shooting the ball.” James had plenty of company in the subpar shooting category as Cleveland shot 36 percent from the field, including a woeful 4-of-26 from 3-point range.

ABOUT THE CELTICS: Morris was one of three Boston players to reach the 20-point mark in the opener as shooting guard Jaylen Brown recorded 23 points and eight rebounds and center Al Horford had 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. But the decision to elevate Morris into the starting power forward spot was the big difference-maker as a player who was just 18-of-59 shooting in the five-game series against Philadelphia made 7-of-12 shots and effectively hounded James. “He was able to really force the issue in the offensive end and make LeBron exert so much energy because then he has to come down and really guard him,” backup point guard Marcus Smart told reporters. “Can’t take plays off against really good players.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Celtics SF Jayson Tatum scored 16 points in Game 1 to halt his franchise rookie record of seven straight games of 20 or more points.

2. Cleveland PF/C Kevin Love (17 points) was just 5-of-14 shooting in the opener after averaging 25 points on 26-of-48 shooting over the previous three playoff games.

3. Boston PG Terry Rozier had just eight points in Game 1 but also had eight assists against just one turnover.

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2018 NBA Playoffs

Second-round preview

With the second round under way, let’s dive in straight into the series on hand.

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Toronto Raptors vs Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers have knocked the Toronto Raptors out of the playoffs the last two years but the Raptors are finally the favored team and hope to play like it when the teams begin their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup.

Enter the TOR/CLE contest

Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers

The Boston Celtics needed everything they had to survive a seven-game, first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Their reward is an Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with one of the hottest teams in the league in the rested Philadelphia 76ers.

Enter the BOS/PHI contest

Houston Rockets vs Utah Jazz

The Jazz vs. Rockets series is a classic matchup. The league’s best offense vs. the league’s best defense.

Enter the HOU/UTA contest

Golden State Warriors vs New Orleans Pelicans

One team was supposed to be here all along. The other was two regular-season losses away from missing the playoffs and setting into motion a major overhaul that likely would have included firing its coach and front office, and possibly would have stretched into a trade involving one of the league’s best players. But the stunning sweep of Portland by the Pelicans earned them a spot in the conference semifinals for the first time in a decade. It surely saved the job of head coach Alvin Gentry, and likely the job of GM Dell Demps, too. That means teams anticipating a Pels fire sale can cross off Anthony Davis from their wish lists.

Enter the GSW/NOP contest

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2018 NBA Playoffs

First-round previews

If the playoffs are anything like the wild finish to the regular season, hold on. It took an overtime play-in win just to determine the Western Conference playoff teams, and little was settled outside of the top two seeds in the East heading into Wednesday’s season finale. But now that we have the sixteen teams, it’s on. The NBA’s second season officially begins on Saturday afternoon.

Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards

The Raptors have all sorts of pressure on them this postseason, but they couldn’t have done much better than facing the fledgling Wizards at the start. Washington, which has lost 14 of its last 21 games, welcomed five-time All-Star John Wall back on March 31 after he missed more than two months with a knee injury. Still, Toronto — which was third in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating this season — should be able to survive.

Enter the TOR/WAS Series Tournament

Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Boston, which is without five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving for the playoffs and guard Marcus Smart until at least late April, has its hands full against these Bucks. Milwaukee’s 106-102 win over Boston on April 3 serves as the best evidence of how they match up at the moment. The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo will be looking to advance past the first round for the first time (he’s 0-for-2 thus far).

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat

Philadelphia comes in as the league’s hottest team, having won 16 games in a row. Never mind that All-Star big man Joel Embiid went down with an orbital fracture in his left eye eight games into the stretch, the Sixers just kept rolling. When Embiid was asked if he might be able to play for Game 1, he told reporters it’s “unlikely but still a chance.”

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers

LeBron James is no stranger to memorable playoff matchups against the Pacers, but this is a different version of the familiar story. With coach Nate McMillan and All-Star guard Victor Oladipo leading the way, the Pacers were a wonderful surprise this season.

Enter the CLE/IND Series Tournament

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Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Rockets dominated the season series against the Timberwolves, but only one of those games (a 126-108 win on Feb. 13) included Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler from beginning to end. The four-time All-Star tore his meniscus in their second matchup on Feb. 23, then missed the final two meetings before returning on Friday. The Rockets, meanwhile, lost key defender Luc Mbah a Moute to a dislocated shoulder on Tuesday, and he’s expected to miss the first round — if not longer.

Enter the HOU/MIN Series Tournament

Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs

This is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals in name alone, as Golden State is without two-time MVP Stephen Curry this time around and the Spurs’ franchise centerpiece, Kawhi Leonard, remains out after playing just nine games this season. But if anyone is capable of creating a gameplan to upset the ailing defending champions, it’s San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. His Spurs had the fourth-best defensive rating this season. The Warriors, meanwhile, have lost 10 of their last 17 games.

Enter the GSW/SAS Series Tournament

Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

The Trail Blazers lost seven of their last 12 games, but the regular season finale win over Utah was enough to earn them the No. 3 seed. Portland, which had the league’s ninth-best defensive rating this season, will have all it can handle with the way Pelicans star Anthony Davis has been playing (a league-leading 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game since DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury Jan. 26).

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz

The Jazz boasted the NBA’s best defense for the final few months of the regular season, and now they’ll try to stop a star-studded Thunder squad that finished 10th in offensive rating. But the Jazz have to score too, and therein lies the most pressing question of their postseason: Can rookie guard Donovan Mitchell be the same star-caliber player on this stage? Utah certainly needs him to be.

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Celtics at Wizards Preview

The Washington Wizards are lacking momentum entering the postseason and will look to end a four-game losing streak when they host the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. Washington’s troubles go back nearly six weeks as it has lost eight of its last 10 games and 13 of the past 19.

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The Wizards’ issues were on full display in Friday’s 103-97 home loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks, when they shot 40.2 percent from the field and coach Scott Brooks all but called his team selfish. “Nobody wanted to share the basketball,” Brooks told reporters. “It’s a simple game: you pass it to your teammate, you pass it because the game tells you. If you don’t pass to your teammates, you’re not going to end up getting good shots.” Boston also lost to Atlanta in its most recent outing, blowing a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead on Sunday while suffering a 112-106 setback that represented its third loss in the past four games. “We just have to finish the game,” backup center Greg Monroe told reporters. “I think from our side it was a sloppy game. We have to be better on the pick-and-roll, guarding the ball. They got too many easy layups at the rim so we got to be better.”

TV:
 8 p.m. ET, TNT, NBCS Boston

ABOUT THE CELTICS (54-26): Monroe is averaging 17.7 points over the past three games and even recorded the second triple-double of his eight-year career in Friday’s victory over the Chicago Bulls. Boston sees the 6-foot-11 Monroe as a valuable contributor in the upcoming postseason as the inside game will be more important with star outside shooter Kyrie Irving (knee) done for the season. “We need him to play well,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters of a player who averaged more than 15 points per game in five different seasons. “I think the biggest thing – obviously we’re going into the playoffs with less people on our roster, and down some guys. The bench play is going to be huge for us.”

ABOUT THE WIZARDS (42-38): Shooting guard Bradley Beal scored 32 points and was the only Washington starter to score more than 10 against the Hawks. Point guard John Wall sat out to rest his surgically repaired knee – he has played three games since returning – while too many of his teammates were looking tried and worn out. “It’s playoff time, we can’t be fatigued,” small forward Otto Porter Jr. told reporters. “We’ve been playing all year, and it’s playoffs. You have to step it up this next week. We have one more week to get ready.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Wizards are 2-1 against the Celtics this season but it was Boston that won in the earlier meeting at Washington – 110-104 in overtime on Feb. 8.

2. Boston PG Terry Rozier is 8-of-26 shooting over the past three games.

3. Washington backup C Ian Mahinmi (concussion) will likely miss his second straight game.

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Fantasy Basketball Projections – April 22nd 2016

The NBA playoffs continues with a couple of Eastern conference Game three’s and one Western conference. All three better-seeded teams could take a 3-0 lead in the series tonight, but it’s back at home for the underdogs. The first matchup sets LeBron and the East number 1 Cavs against the Pistons at 7PM ET. Following at 8 PM will be the Hawks in Boston’s TD Garden Arena, while at 9:30 PM, the second best team in the West take on the Grizzlies. FanPicks has you prepared with Friday’s fantasy basketball projections, charting the top 20 best performers for all three games.Top 20 4-22-16

It’s no surprise that LeBron James takes number one in the top 20 fantasy picks. His level of consistency is tremendous, scoring over 30 FP is past 10 games. Along with LeBron, Kyrie Irving his the only other player in today’s lineup to score an average of over 30 FP during the playoffs. Kyle Korver suprisingly ranks number two with 25 FP, having had a huge Game 2 against Boston. His numbers don’t usually reflect that. He’s got a post-season average of 12.5 FP and a past four game average of 10.1 FP. His teammate, Al Horford, scored the same number fantasy points, and it’s clear that his status his much better than Korver’s. Reggie Jackson is the best fantasy draft player from Detroit, and he’s not even the most expensive. That goes to rebounding machine Andre Drummond. The Piston and Hawks share the most players listed in the top 20 with 5 each. The Hawks leading scorer, Paul Millsap, didn’t make the cut. Proves that the Hawks have a nice arsenal on their hands.  The Spurs and Grizzlies are lacking in that list, mostly due to the fact their Game 2 ended in a 94-68 win for San Antonio. Off the board, you could see guys like Celtics Isaiah Thomas, Spurs Kawhi Leonard and Grizzlies Matt Barnes provide more than they did last time around. It will also need to be seen if Kent Bazemore could make the Hawks starting five, as he is a game time decision. Thabo Sefolosha is the one who could take his spot if unavailable. The Swiss player has been increasingly good and could line-up as an amazing sleeper pick.

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