- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rajon Rondo and the Celtics visit the Hawks in a potential playoff preview.It's a potential first-round playoff preview when the Boston Celtics (37-26, 15-17 away) visit the Atlanta Hawks (37-25, 20-9 home) on Friday night at Philips Arena. Don't expect playoff intensity as Boston looks set to rest bodies over the final week of the regular season. To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. Should the C's push hard with home-court advantage still hanging in the balance for a potential playoff matchup with the Hawks?
Payne: No, I think the Celtics should be cautious with their players on Friday and hold out who they need to hold out. At this point, I would say health trumps home-court advantage in the first round. The Celtics know they can win on the road if they are healthy and rested, so I'd rather see them pull the throttle back a bit tonight and rest guys if they need it.
Forsberg: I'm sure Rivers gave some consideration to going full throttle with the guys he has -- Rajon Rondo (back), Ray Allen (ankle), and Mickael Pietrus (knee) are not on the trip -- but after seeing how gassed Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were by the end of the Orlando game, it's clear that rest should trump a potential first-round edge (one that's not even guaranteed with a win). The Celtics can lean on the junior varsity and maybe hope that some rare extended court time could bring out their best effort over the last three games. Boston seems content to be without home-court advantage in the first round and now it's all about putting the team in the best position to thrive when the playoffs begin eight days from now.
2. What else will you be focused on when the Celtics visit the Hawks?
Payne: I usually always highlight the Josh Smith matchup when the Hawks are Boston's opponent, and I'll do so again for tonight's game. I mentioned the Celtics holding out guys if need be tonight, but there's still a game to be won tonight, and Smith is always something of a barometer for the Hawks. Because of his versatility, the Celtics don't really have an ideal matchup for Smith, but we'll probably see Brandon Bass on him at the outset. As usual, containing Smith and forcing him to take jumpers from the perimeter will be crucial to Boston's success tonight.
Forsberg: With a reserve-heavy lineup, I'll be interested to see if any of the Boston bench players can make a final push for a playoff role. We know that guys like Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, and Sasha Pavlovic will likely only be emergency bodies in the postseason, but given Boston's health history, it's always good to have those guys playing with confidence in case the team needs them. With three games here where those guys should see hefty minutes, maybe someone in that group can really get it going, giving Rivers an extra bit of confidence should an injury, ejection, or something crazy go down. Let's face it, with Allen and Pietrus ailing and a thin frontcourt, Boston needs as much depth at those spots as it can create. This is also premium time for E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, who can build their own confidence at the tail end of their rookie campaigns.