W2W4: Celtics vs. 76ers (Game 19 of 82)
* LET'S PLAY TWO!: Celtics coach Doc Rivers has dubbed it a mini-playoffs as the Celtics and 76ers meet in the rare regular-season back-to-back. And these two teams are no stranger to one another after last year's enthralling seven-game battle in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Philadelphia has emerged as quite the thorn in the Celtics' side and Rivers knows it. "I’d like to just beat them once, because they’ve handled us," admitted Rivers. "I’d like to beat them both times, but they’re playing well against us and we’re going to have to deal with that. They must have great confidence against us. So those are going to be hard games. I do like [the home-and-home], especially in this stretch. Coming into it I think we’re starting to play a little bit better. We’ve struggled playing Philly, so I love all that stuff because that’s good, the way I look at it in my demented way. I think those are all good things. I think it’s a good challenge for us, so it’ll be a lot of fun."
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: Despite being one of the worst teams in the league offensively -- the 76ers rank just 28th overall while averaging 0.854 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data -- Philadelphia did hang 106 points on Boston during the first meeting this season. They are the best team in the league running isolations and rank in the top 10 in spot-up shooting, so the individual talent is obvious. The Celtics will still need their recent (and more familiar) brand of defense to muddy this one up. The 76ers rank fourth in the league, allowing a mere 0.873 points per play and Lavoy Allen has been a real headache for Boston's frontcourt players (he ranks in the 95th percentile among all defenders, allowing 0.667 points per play).
* DIVISION BY SUBTRACTION: The Celtics are essentially tied with Philadelphia for third place in Atlantic Division, but things aren't even that rosy. Not only has Boston already lost once to the 76ers this season, but it has two losses against second-place Brooklyn. And the Celtics haven't even got a taste of those Heat-beating Knicks and their glossy 14-4 record. Winning the division isn't a big deal for Boston -- it has far loftier goals -- but the more important part of these next two games is showing it can beat a team that will be in the playoff mix. The Celtics have few quality wins this season, particularly in the East, and showing signs of trending in the right direction recently, these two games are a nice chance to gauge where Boston is actually at. We'll let point guard Rajon Rondo bottom line it: "For us every game is big. Our record is not where we want it to be, so every game counts and every game is big.”
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