It looks like more frustration ahead for the Portland Trail Blazers as they will be looking to end their horrid run on Sunday against a very strong Boston Celtics team.
Few teams in the NBA right now are as ice cold as the Blazers. They've lost their last seven games and are 5-15 in their last 20 games. Once looking like a postseason team, Portland's struggles have seen the team take quite a tumble down the standings.
The situation couldn't be any more different for the Celtics. They have been looking very good ever since Rajon Rondo's season-ending injury. It's the kind of thing that could have wrecked Boston's season, but having Rondo out has instead spurred the team going forward.
Here's everything you need to know coming into this Blazers-Celtics matchup, which carries with it some postseason implications for teams near the fringe of the playoff picture.
Where: Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
When: Sunday, Feb. 24, at 9 p.m.
Watch: CSN-NE (Boston) and KGW (Portland)
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Records: Boston Celtics (29-26) at Portland Trail Blazers (25-30)
Celtics Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
F Jared Sullinger, Back
G Rajon Rondo, Knee
Trail Blazers Report (via CBS Sports)
G Elliot Williams, Achilles
Key Storyline: Playoff Picture
With their run recently, the Celtics have almost assured themselves of a playoff bid. Their 29-26 record is good enough for the seventh spot in the East, and it's hard to see either the Toronto Raptors 23-33 or Philadelphia 76ers 22-30 being able to sneak into the postseason over Boston.
The Eastern Conference is largely up in the air behind the Miami Heat 38-14. Most of the teams ahead of the Celtics aren't playing too great lately, so the door is definitely open for Boston to move up in the standings. The team only 3.5 games outside of the fourth spot, thus giving it home-court advantage in the first round. That might be asking too much, however, Boston can help itself by getting up to fifth or sixth, making a first-round matchup slightly easier.
In order for that happen, the Celtics need to beat teams like the Blazers.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Trail Blazers are simply looking to get back in the playoff hunt. Their terrible run has seen them fall five games behind the Houston Rockets 31-26 who sit in eighth place in the West.
Overtaking the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers 27-29 and Dallas Mavericks 25-29 will be extremely hard to do but not impossible for Portland. The team needs a win because it's vital at this stage to stop digging the postseason hole even deeper. You keep expecting the Lakers to turn it on sooner or later, and the Rockets have been playing very good basketball.
Key Matchup: J.J. Hickson vs. Kevin Garnett
J.J. Hickson was one of the many players rumored to be leaving at the trade deadline. The Trail Blazers' demand for a first-round pick in return was a major deterrent for any team possibly taking on the young center, so he remains in Portland (h/t Ken Berger of CBS Sports).
He might be unwanted by management, but there's still plenty that Hickson can contribute to the Blazers. The center is averaging a double-double with 13.1 points and 10.4 rebounds, and his PER of 20.4 is the highest on the team.
For Kevin Garnett, 2012-13 has been just more of the same as he's averaging 15.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. The 36-year-old was also the subject of trade rumors but chose to stay in Boston.
This should be a very intriguing matchup of undersized big men. While both have played the majority of their minutes at center, neither has the size you would normally think of when thinking of the prototypical post player.
With the way that they have played this season, it's unlikely that Garnett or Hickson will have the kind of performance that will win the game for their respective teams. The pair's work under the boards, though, will be key for getting second-chance opportunities and extending possession.
It's hard to gauge which team is going to win this one.
The Celtics are coming in on a very good run, which only looks better when considering how poor the Trail Blazers have been. However, Portland is a very respectable 17-9 in the Rose Garden, and Boston is the exact opposite at 9-17 when playing away from home.
Boston is playing too well right now to not be the favorites. It absolutely dominated Portland when these teams met back in November, with the Celtics winning by 18 points.
The Blazers defense has been a bit of an issue, giving up 99.9 points a game and letting the opposition shoot 46.7 percent from the field. This is the kind of game where Paul Pierce can really go off.
Final Score: Boston Celtics 99, Portland Trail Blazers 85
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