- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Paul Pierce and the Celtics look to get past the Jazz Wednesday at TD Garden.If the season ended today, the Utah Jazz (27-23, 8-17 away) and the Boston Celtics (27-22, 17-8 home) would be the No. 7 seeds in their respective divisions. There's a month to play and both squads will be looking to improve their standing when they meet Wednesday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with Greg Payne:
1. Old friend Al Jefferson leads the Jazz back into the Garden on Wednesday night. What will you be focused on in this matchup?
Payne: I'll be looking at the front court matchups between the two teams. Utah boasts two of the best younger bigs in the league in Jefferson and Paul Millsap, and both can certainly pose problems for the likes of Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett, and Greg Stiemsma. Jefferson and Garnett have a history of heated matchups and they'll be pitted against one another at the center position tonight. Jefferson's one of the most polished low-post scorers in the game, so KG will have his work cut out for him on the defensive end. Similarly, we've all seen Stiemsma's defensive prowess this year, but I'm curious to see him match up against Jefferson, to see how he handles an opponent with a host of back-to-the-basket moves and a natural feel for scoring the ball.
Forsberg: The Jazz are kinda quietly playing some really inspired ball, winning seven of their last eight, the only hiccup being that quadruple-overtime loss to the Hawks on Sunday. Sure, it's aided by the 133 points Utah put up that night, but the Jazz are still averaging a whopping 109 points per game during this eight-game stretch and have beaten the Lakers, Kings, and Nuggets -- three teams Boston stumbled against out west -- during that span (throw in a win over the Thunder, too). Boston must find a way to combat Utah's size. When focusing on the frontcourt matchup, don't forget about Derrick Favors off the bench as well (him and Millsap make the Jazz one of the best in the league off putbacks).
2. Can the C's win the Atlantic Division? How important is the 4th seed?
Payne: The Celtics can absolutely finish the season atop the Atlantic Division. All season I've been seeking out signs of consistency from this club, and it appears they might be starting to hit a mini-stride of sorts. The Celtics are currently playing with a boatload of confidence, despite the disturbing string of injuries that has plagued them all season, and if guys like Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo can continue playing at their respective levels of late, this team can still be very formidable. The fourth seed is crucial, because it guarantees the C's that they won't see Miami or Chicago in the first round and I doubt there are many people out there who would rather see the Heat or the Bulls, as opposed to the Hawks or the Pacers. Indiana and Atlanta will certainly pose significant problems for the Celtics in a playoff matchup, but I'd still roll the dice against those clubs before I take my chances against LeBron James or Derrick Rose.
Forsberg: Having home court in the first round of the playoffs is a nice little perk, but I'll keep saying it: Given the daunting nature of the schedule over the final month and the unlikelihood that Boston is going to do much more than hang onto the No. 7 seed, I'd almost rather see the team pace itself a bit at times, particularly near the end of the regular season, then go give Miami it's best punch. Ideal? No, but what has been this season? A first-round upset gives Boston an easier draw in the conference semifinals (does Orlando or Atlanta, currently projected in the 3-6 matchup, scare anyone?) The Celtics need not empty the tank over the final four weeks to give themselves a marginally better playoff path. Winning an easier first-round series won't offer any silver lining if the C's can't get past the Heat or the Bulls.
If the season ended today, the Utah Jazz (27-23, 8-17 away) and the Boston Celtics (27-22, 17-8 home) would be the No. 7 seeds in their respective divisions.