By Sean Kennedy
It’s a true battle of tankers Wednesday night as the Sixers head to Beantown to take on a Celtics team clearly looking toward next season. By all appearances, GM Danny Ainge is using the rest of this season to round Rajon Rondo back into playing shape after his long layoff from ACL surgery, and let new coach Brad Stevens groom some young players, all while losing plenty of games in the process to better position themselves for the loaded 2014 draft. Boston sits just percentage points ahead of the Sixers in the standings and already unloaded their most productive guard this sesaon, Jordan Crawford, to the Warriors as part of a three-team deal that netted them a 2nd-round pick and the Sixers’ conditional first-round pick that Miami owned. No team in the NBA will be rooting harder for the Sixers to make the playoffs next season (possibly even moreso than the Sixers themselves), which I’m sure will be an unnatural position to be in for Boston fans.
Since his return, Rondo has played in 6 of Boston’s 7 games, but has yet to play in a back-to-back which would be the case tonight. His status is still uncertain against the Sixers. Rondo has understandably been slow to acclimate back to the pro game after his long layoff, shooting just 28% from the field and averaging 7 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes per game. So even if he is in the lineup, don’t expect to see the version that terrorized the Sixers in the playoffs a couple years back (these teams met in the Eastern Conference semifinals just two years ago, crazy to think about, right). The Celtics will definitely be without Avery Bradley, who will miss the next few weeks with a right ankle injury. They have been sliding Jeff Green to shooting guard and starting Gerald Wallace, and if Rondo sits, it will mean increased minutes for the likes of Jerryd Bayless and Phil Pressey. No matter how you stack it up, the Sixers should have the advantage in the backcourt.
The Celtics are just 1-6 over their last 7 games with Rondo (WR), with the second-worst eFG% in the NBA, only ahead of the Sixers. Jeff Green is leading the team in scoring WR at 18 points per game, including a 39-point explosion in their win against Washington where he sank 8 threes. However, Green is about as inconsistent as they come this season, and no one else has been especially dangerous from the perimeter, so the Celtics do not appear to be well-equipped to take advantage of the Sixers’ shortcomings in that defensive area. One guy that could give the Sixers trouble is Jared Sullinger, who has grabbed over 3 offensive rebounds per game WR. Sullinger doesn’t stand particularly tall at 6’9″, but has a wide, bulky frame that could give the lighter Thad Young or the contact-reluctant Spencer Hawes problems on the boards. Regardless, if there was a road game I could confidently say the Sixers should take it would be this one. Boston isn’t particularly interested in winning games and has been struggling mightily on the offensive end. Rondo sitting out would be the final straw for what should be a rare Sixers victory.