The race for second place in the Eastern Conference intensifies Monday night when the Washington Wizards visit the Boston Celtics for the latest edition of a testy rivalry. The teams engaged in some heated matchups earlier this season while jockeying for position behind the front-running Cleveland Cavaliers, with the second-place Celtics entering this one 1 1/2 games up on the Wizards after Sunday’s 105-99 loss in Philadelphia.
Playing its second straight game without All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas (knee) - who is hoping to return for this one - Boston struggled to find a go-to guy when it needed one and blew a 13-point lead to fall to 4-4 in its last eight games. Washington has also hit a relative cold spell, losing three of four following a five-game winning streak after beginning a two-game road trip with a 98-93 loss at Charlotte on Saturday. “I just wish we would have made more shots,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks plainly told reporters after a season-low 36.7 percent effort from the field. The home team has won each of the first three meetings, with Boston picking up a 117-108 victory at TD Garden in January in a game that featured plenty of jawing and a near-encounter in the back hallway between the locker rooms after the game.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, CSN Mid-Atlantic (Washington), CSN New England (Boston)
ABOUT THE WIZARDS (42-27): John Wall was one of many who struggled to find the mark in Saturday’s loss, making 5-of-16 from the field in his second straight difficult offensive effort since suffering a foot injury Wednesday against Dallas. “It was one of those nights where you just couldn’t make shots,” Wall told the media. “I think we did a great job of moving the ball, guys got great looks, missed a couple free throws that hurt us, but other than that, we just couldn’t get into a rhythm. Couldn’t make shots.” Markieff Morris, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the previous meeting with Boston, has missed the last two games due to illness and is day-to-day.
ABOUT THE CELTICS (44-26): Boston needs each and every win to catch Cleveland, and Sunday’s collapse against a beatable opponent could prove fatal in that pursuit. However, the team now begins a closing stretch in which it plays nine of 12 at TD Garden, including home games with the Wizards and Cavaliers and eight contests against teams that entered Sunday with a sub-.500 mark. Thomas has shined at home all season, averaging 30.5 points while shooting 41.2 percent from long range.
1. Celtics C Al Horford scored a season-high 27 points Sunday and is averaging 20.3 over his last three games.
2. Wall is shooting 36.8 percent in the three meetings with Boston.
3. The Celtics have lost their last three games on the second half of a back-to-back.
PREDICTION: Celtics 105, Wizards 101