The Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics both hoped to avoid the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament thanks to their star power this season. But some injuries and inconsistent form have led them to compete for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night.
With Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal set lead Washington into battle against Boston’s Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, this contest will be one of the highlights of the play-in rounds.
Injuries severely impacted the Washington Wizards this season, as key players like Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans missed long periods of the season. But the Wizards fought back from the depths of the East standings thanks to their returns and the incredible play of Russell Westbrook. Now, after finishing eighth in the conference, the Wizards have to win one of their next two games to reach the first round of the playoffs.
For the Wizards, the key is going to be the performance of their defense in this contest. Their 118.5 points per game allowed is over three points worse than any other squad that qualified for the postseason or the play-in tournament. Against a Boston team that struggled to put the ball in the basket late in the season, Washington will need to tighten up defensively to avoid being put into an elimination game.
Also important will be Russell Westbrook’s ability to play under control. Westbrook’s performance over the last few weeks to move the Wizards into the top eight has been remarkable. But he cannot afford to revert back to his old self in this game and rely too heavily on a jump shot that just isn’t good enough to use heavily.
Boston has been one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA this season. Their big three of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker have not been enough to power the Celtics into the top-six in the East. On top of their less than stellar regular season performance, Brown’s season-ending injury has left their ability to get through the play-in tournament in question.
For the Celtics, whether or not they advance past the Wizards will come down to how much Jayson Tatum can give them on the offensive end. He has had to carry the Celtics for periods of time during Brown’s absence and may be called upon to do so again in crunch time. If he and Walker can keep up with the production of Wall and Beal, the Celtics may be headed for a first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Pick: Wizards +2
Based on the way both teams are playing heading into this matchup, the Washington Wizards have to be the play in this game. Westbrook is playing some of the best basketball of his career right now, and the Wizards have the weapons to outperform the role players of the Celtics. As long as Westbrook stays within himself and doesn’t shoot the team out of this game, expect the Wizards to claim the seventh seed.