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Will Ray Allen be back on the floor for Wednesday's visit from Tim Duncan and the Spurs?The only team playing better than the Boston Celtics (30-22, 19-8 home) right now is the San Antonio Spurs (37-14, 16-10 road), who carry an eight-game winning streak into Wednesday night's clash at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). The Spurs have won 11 of their last 12 and are the only team in the league with a better record since the All-Star break than Boston. To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What will you be focused on when the Spurs and Celtics meet?
Payne: It depends on who Spurs coach Gregg Popovich holds out in this one. The Spurs dismantled the Cavaliers last night, but Popovich has stated publicly that he won't be shy about holding out guys like Manu Ginobili on the second night of back-to-backs, as well as other players, in an effort to keep guys healthy and energized for the postseason. Ideally, we'd be seeing another great test for the surging Celtics tonight, similar to Sunday's bout with the Heat, but San Antonio might not be throwing out all of its big guns. Normally I'd mention the Rajon Rondo-Tony Parker matchup, but, again, similar to Sunday, I'm more interested in seeing Avery Bradley match up with Parker. I think Bradley can come in and really disrupt the flow of guys like Parker, and other players that opponents really rely upon. Similar to how he smothered Dwyane Wade at times on Sunday, I want to see if Bradley can lock down Parker tonight.
Forsberg: No doubt the Celtics were hoping to see a "DNP -- Old" or two under the Spurs' box score Wednesday night with San Antonio playing the second night of a back-to-back. Instead, the only reason the Spurs would be tired is from beating the Cavaliers mercilessly (winning by 35 points on the road on Tuesday). No San Antonio starter played more than 26 minutes, including Tim Duncan (23) and Parker (23). That likely means no letup from a Spurs' magnificently efficient offense that thrives in transition (the Spurs rank No. 1 in the league averaging 1.228 points per transition play, according to Synergy Sports data, and second overall in points per play). The Spurs don't force a lot of turnovers, but they don't give the ball up a whole lot either, so Boston has to continue to value the ball and maximize their own offensive possessions.
2. Doc Rivers is leaning towards putting Ray Allen in the starting lineup upon his return. Agree or disagree with the decision?
Payne: About a week ago I said I was all in favor of putting Ray Allen back in the starting lineup, but now a strong part of me really wants to see how long this younger, more athletic starting lineup can keep up this string of success. It's almost like during a single game when a reserve player catches fire and the coach leaves him in, as opposed to resorting back to one of his regulars to close the game. I think Bradley emerging more on the offensive end is the biggest reason why you'd make the argument for keeping this thing going. We all know about his abilities on the defensive end, but I don't think as many people were sold on his play on the other end of the court. But Rivers and his staff have done a wonderful job of sticking Bradley in one of the corners and having him find success through baseline cuts and open jump shots.
Forsberg: Here's the only reason I'm somewhat leery: If Allen returns, chances are he's not going to be 100 percent out of the gates and the Celtics have an incredibly daunting stretch here against six straight playoff foes (over eight days). Regardless of whether Boston struggles because of him or just the quality of opponents, if the recent defensive success wanes, then the criticism will invariably fall -- fair or not -- on Allen. What's more, if Rivers desires to then revert back to Bradley with the first unit, it will look like a straight demotion for Allen. Part of me wonders if it's easier to bring him off the bench for the first couple games under the guise of "easing him back in" while he finds his legs. Then you get a few more games to gauge whether this Rondo-Bradley backup can be exploited by some of the league's top foes, all while getting a glimpse of Allen in the bench role where he could provide just the offensive jolt the Celtics reserve need. If the Bradley lineup starts showing cracks, you can make the easy switch to Allen back with the first unit. Ultimately, I'm OK with the notion that a player can't lose his job to injury, so thrusting Allen -- the league's best 3-point shooter and a surefire Hall of Famer --back into his starting lineup makes sense and it will simply be interesting to see if the Celtics can maintain their recent level of play with him reintegrated. It will also be intriguing to see how Rivers balances minutes for both Allen and Bradley moving forward.