Celtics, Bucks on a collision course for a postseason showdown?

BOSTON. Ja Morant made headlines a few weeks ago when he told Sportzshala correspondent Malika Andrews that the Memphis Grizzlies weregood in the west.”

What got a little less attention is that Morant said there’s one team that really worries him: the Boston Celtics.

And after Memphis lost 119-109 on Sunday to a Celtics team that is missing three of its top eight players, including Boston’s starting backline, defending Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and All-Star All-Star Jaylen Brown, Morant explained his concern about the enemy of the Eastern Conference.

“What a balanced team they have,” Morant said. “Obviously they have two guys averaging 20+, but just look at that tonight when they had eight double-digit guys? It’s hard.

“I feel like they are just balanced and have two guys leading them offensively. [Jayson Tatum and Brown] and you have two amazing defenders with Smart and Robert Williams.

“Pretty cool team.”

Boston has been a tough team all season, so the Celtics woke up Monday morning with an NBA-best 41-16 record. The Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, have arguably the best player in the sport in Giannis Antetokounmpo, finally healthy forward Chris Middleton, with 10 straight wins and 1.5 games behind Boston at 39- 17.

The lineup of these teams will serve as the backdrop for one of the biggest games of the 2022-2023 season as Boston travels to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks on Tuesday at 7:30 pm ET in one of the final games before the All-Out this weekend. . – Star game in Salt Lake City.

While the game won’t serve as a true indicator of where the two Eastern Conference titans pit against each other, given Smart and Brown won’t be playing, this past week of games has shown the Celtics can still be a worthy opponent, even if not at full strength.

Just ask the Grizzlies and the Philadelphia 76ers, both of whom traveled to Boston for nationally televised games against the league-leading Celtics only to come home defeated despite MVP candidate Tatum scoring totaling 8 out of 31, and several Celtics players were missing. both games.

Asked what allowed Boston to perform at a high level, acting Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla cited a conversation he had with center Mike Muscala when Boston acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder before the deadline. exchange on Thursday.

“When Mike came here, I told him, ‘Cherish it, because this could be one of the best locker rooms you have,'” Mazzulla said. “So their ability to just be professional, no matter the circumstances, is special.”

And this season, the Bucks also did not differ in health. Middleton missed most of the season with wrist and knee problems before returning late last month and he was still off the bench in recent games. Key reserve Joe Ingles missed the Bucks’ first couple of months recovering from cruciate ligament surgery he had last season, and Portis missed the last couple of weeks with an ACL sprain.

But Antetokounmpo has always been a dominant player, averaging a season-high 32.4 points along with 12.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Jrue Holiday played at All-Star level, and Brooke Lopez is a solid contender for Defensive Player of the Year. And, after a long period of inconsistency after a 9-0 start to the season, the Bucks were in splendid form during their 10-game winning streak, leading the opposition by more than 11 points in 100 possessions.

Add it all up – and couple it with the fact that no team got close to the Celtics and Bucks at the top of the East, and the teams behind them either sent players away or basically stayed their own (in stark contrast with an arms race). via the Western Conference last week) — and it looks like Boston and Milwaukee are on track for another postseason showdown. Last week’s deep additions – Muskala for Boston and all-round forward Jay Crowder for Milwaukee – underline both teams’ positions among the conference’s elite.

The Celtics and Bucks have faced each other three times in the past five playoff seasons, including a seven-game clash last spring in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Judging by the way both are playing now, it’s expected to be the fourth episode in six seasons this spring – only this time, which will take place a round later. Tuesday night, even without key players, should give an idea of ​​what this postseason showdown could look like.


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