- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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It's a battle for the top spot in the Atlantic Division when the Boston Celtics (25-21, 9-13 away) visit the Philadelphia 76ers (26-21, 16-10 home) on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center (8 p.m., ESPN). The last time the two teams met, Philadelphia absolutely steamrolled Boston as part of a 103-71 triumph. With only three head-to-head meetings between the two teams this season, the 76ers can also secure the head-to-head tiebreaker over Boston with a win Friday. The division crown is quite a prize this season as it ensures the owner a spot no worse than No. 4 in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings. To preview the matchup, we play a little game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What's one thing the Celtics need to do to reverse their fortunes from the first time they visited the 76ers?
Payne: They just need to compete. I know the C's were coming off back-to-back overtime victories the last time they were in Philadelphia, but in that game the majority of the group (save for Paul Pierce) simply didn't show up with any sense of urgency. Thursday's win in Milwaukee serves as a great example of how the C's are capable of jumping out of the gates quick and solidifying their mark on the game. Even though the defense was lacking in the first half on Thursday, the C's kept their foot on the gas pedal, and never were at risk of falling behind by double-digits, the way we saw them do so so often earlier in the season. That attack mentality needs to be on display tonight, and they can't afford to make excuses about it being the second night of a back-to-back.
Forsberg: Show up? Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted his team just didn't have it last time. Well, they gotta have it tonight as starting strong really is the key. It's been such a rarity this season that it was almost startling to see Boston hang 35 points (and nearly 38 if Rondo's halfcourt heave had gotten off a split-second earlier) in the first quarter against the Bucks. Yes, it's the second night of a back-to-back, but buoyed by a quality win in Milwaukee -- one in which its starters played reasonable minutes -- and with a need to atone for that last Philadelphia visit, the Celtics shouldn't have much of a problem finding the energy to finish strong on this eight-game road trip. The April schedule is no picnic, but there's an opportunity here to close out March with some momentum and, from a psyche standpoint, a win Friday would go an awful long way for Boston.
2. Ryan Hollins is expected to join the Celtics tonight in Philadelphia. What will his role be the rest of the way?
Payne: I don't think it's a given that Hollins will leapfrog Greg Stiemsma as the Celtics' primary big off the bench. Hollins will have to come in and compete, and he'll have to prove that he's going to attack the glass and get rebounds for this team, because that's what they need out of him more than anything. Stiemsma has played very well of late, particularly defensively, so Hollins has his work cut out for him in terms of garnering consistent minutes in the rotation. But, in an ideal world, he'll live up to his 7-foot, 240-pound frame and become a reliable force on the boards for Boston.
Forsberg: Consider this the start of Operation Keep The Bigs Upright. It would be great if Hollins came in and found what's been missing in the previous stops on a six-year career, but if can simply eat up minutes and not be a liability on the defensive end, then the Celtics will have accomplished their buyout goal. His presence adds a legit 7-footer and while his typical skill set runs counter to what Boston really needs at the moment -- he's not the type to outmuscle you in the post or clean the glass -- his size and athleticism will give him a chance to make an impact. I think he'll get some initial time to see if they can catch that honeymoon period that typically comes when players swap teams, but if Stiemsma's right foot is healthy enough, he deserves any minutes the two might be battling for initially based on his recent play.
It's a battle for the top spot in the Atlantic Division when the Boston Celtics (25-21, 9-13 away) visit the Philadelphia 76ers (26-21, 16-10 home) on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center (8 p.