Celtics host Hawks with playoffs on horizon
- Denver, OKC to vie for top spot in West
- 76ers' Butler iffy vs. surging Pacers
- Celtics seek 8th straight win vs. Hawks
- Leonard questionable to face Blazers
- Harden has 50-10-11, Rockets beat Lakers
BOSTON -- Having been officially eliminated from capturing the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics have to make sure they don't suffer any further serious injuries in their final three games of the regular season.
And they also have to find out who will finish in the seventh spot and provide the opposition in the first round of the playoffs.
Three games in four days await Boston: Sunday at home against the Atlanta Hawks, Tuesday at Washington -- one of the three potential playoff opponents -- and Wednesday night at home against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Celtics, who will be without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis for the rest of the season and not knowing when Marcus Smart (thumb surgery) will return, rested Al Horford and Jayson Tatum in Friday night's victory over the Chicago Bulls. Jaylen Brown scored a career-high 32 points and Greg Monroe had his second career triple-double in the victory.
Even though they won, the Celtics were eliminated from top-spot contention with the Toronto Raptors' win over the Indiana Pacers, making these final three games meaningless.
"We haven't discussed at all about making any changes to our team, so that's not even been a discussion," Boston coach Brad Stevens said after Friday's game. "I think at the end of the day, we'll play at least one, maybe two of the games with our group -- with the whole group -- and we'll go from there.
"But we generally know what each guy's going to bring to the table, what each guy does best, and how it's going to fit together, and then it'll be a matter of who we're playing."
Jonathan Gibson, signed out of China for the final four games of the season, became an immediate fan favorite by basically getting off a plane and hitting three 3-pointers for nine points in nine minutes. He is not eligible for the postseason.
Boston could also play Miami or Milwaukee in the first round. They are tied for sixth, one game ahead of the the eighth-place Wizards.
The Hawks, losers of 13 of their last 16 and playing out the string, pulled off a surprise victory at Washington Friday night behind 23 points, five assists and four rebounds from Taurean Prince and 22 points from Tyler Dorsey.
All this amid reports that have coach Mike Budenholzer is interested in getting the Milwaukee job.
According to the Racine Journal Times:
"Multiple sources said two current head coaches -- Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mike Budenholzer of Atlanta -- have more than a passing interest in the Bucks' job and coaching the NBA's brightest young star in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"Some NBA officials said Budenholzer, who guided the Hawks to 60 wins just three seasons ago when he was accorded NBA's Coach of the Year honors, also doesn't want to be part of an extensive rebuild in Atlanta."
The article went on to that Budenholzer, the NBA Coach of the Year after guiding the Atlanta to 60 wins three years ago, doesn't want to be part of an "extensive rebuild" with the Hawks.
Budenholzer's position in the Atlanta organization has changed with the arrival of new general manager Travis Schlenk, with Budenholzer losing say on player personnel. That could leave the door open for his departure.
The Celtics have won the first three games against the Hawks this season. Irving had 65 points in two wins at Atlanta while Terry Rozier scored a then-career high 31 in the other victory, which came without Irving.
Updated April 7, 2018