If the season ended today, the Celtics would see the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which makes Tuesday night's matchup between old rivals Boston and Philly that much more interesting.
The C's meet the visiting Sixers at 7:30 p.m. EDT, on Comcast Sports Net New England, looking to win their second straight while also keeping pace with the Miami Heat, who sit a half game ahead of Boston for second place in the East. Miami is off until Wednesday, meaning a Celts win would even the two teams up in the race for the second seed while cutting into the first-place Chicago Bulls three-game lead for first place overall.
The Celts (53-23) beat the Detroit Pistons 101-90 on Sunday, getting a big game out of their front line, led by Kevin Garnett's 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting and eight rebounds. Despite losing Shaquille O'Neal to yet another injury just six minutes into his return from an Achilles problem that kept him sidelined for over two months, the C's owned the post against the Pistons and will be getting some reinforcements in that area on Tuesday with both Nenad Krstic and Troy Murphy expected to return after brief absences.
Tuesday will mark the fourth meeting of the season between the Celts and Sixers, the previous three decided by a total of eight points. The C's won two of those three games, but the most recent one, on March 11, in Philly, was taken by the Sixers, 89-86. The Celtics have won 12 of the last 15 times these two teams have met.
Philly (40-37) will be without top reserve guard Louis Williams, who left Saturday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks with a right hamstring strain. That loss spoiled what would have been a season-high, four-game winning streak for the Sixers, who are a game and a half ahead of the Knicks for sixth place in the East.
Tuesday night's game starts a stretch of games that should provide a glimpse of playoff-style atmosphere for the Celts. In addition to being on course to meet the Sixers again come next weekend's first round, Boston will face the Bulls on Thursday in Chicago and the Heat on Sunday in Miami with a home date against the Washington Wizards sandwiched in on Friday night.