When the Portland Trail Blazers face the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, the matchup will contain more than meets the eye. On paper, Portland and Boston live in different universes. The Celtics win 71% of their games and have designs on the NBA Finals. The Blazers...do not. But comparative records and aims don’t tell the whole story.
Boston will be the last decent Eastern Conference opponent the Blazers welcome to the Moda Center this season. The Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers will visit in March and April, respectively, but they hardly qualify. This is the last interesting, unique game the majority of Portland fans will be able to see in person.
Boston is also the last team the Blazers have yet to face this season. They’ve already squared off against every other NBA opponent but the Celts. Technically, Boston games account for nearly 10% of Portland’s remaining schedule. With much of that schedule populated by road games and tough home opponents, the playoffs-hunting Blazers need to get wins where they can. Winning Tuesday’s game, or at least proving they can hang with the Celtics, would be a good start.
Speaking of scheduling, Portland begins another crucial stretch on Tuesday night. They host Boston, then travel to Indiana before engaging six teams with substandard records. That eight-game stretch will be their chance to make a move towards the eighth seed in the West. Indiana will be tough, but even chalking that game as an “L”, a win against Boston would give Portland a legitimate chance at going 7-1, and that’s with Damian Lillard missing for part of the stretch.
Presuming the Blazers beat the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, their record would be 26-32 heading into Tuesday. Going 7-1 in the next eight would leave them at exactly .500, looking at a puncher’s chance to finish strong for the final stretch of the season. The Blazers have not been at .500 since November 2nd, six games into the season. The psychological boost could be significant.
If they lose against the Celtics, not only do they not reach that mark, they have to scramble to get there against the likes of Houston, Memphis, Boston (again), and Philadelphia.
Boston also provides a huge test for Portland’s versatility. Two of their three leading scorers, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are forwards. That’s Portland’s area of weakness. The Celtics don’t come with size, though. Starting center Daniel Theis stands 6’8. He and backup Enes Kanter average 9 points per game each. The Blazers will need to mix and match creatively to avoid the kind of matchup problems that routinely kill them, but at least they won’t be bullied by huge opponents. They might be able to give as good as they get.
CJ McCollum versus Kemba Walker is another huge attraction. This will be CJ’s time to show that he can hang with one of the best point guards in the league below the true superstar level, and that he, himself, should be considered same.
There’s no doubt that Tuesday’s game will be tough, but it’ll also be exciting, different, and if the Blazers can sneak in a win, it could be significant.
If you want to see Blazers-Celtics in person, our friends at StubHub have you covered, as always.
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