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NBA Christmas Day Preview: Wizards-Celtics

Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics will host the Washington Wizards on Christmas Day, following the Cavaliers-Warriors game.

The Wizards and Celtics own, perhaps, the NBA’s most unexpected rivalry and the last few regular season meetings between these franchises have been particularly chippy.

Recent games between the two Eastern Conference rivals have featured flagrant fouls, broken noses, a police presence, and one team wearing all-black jerseys in what was dubbed “The Funeral Game”.

Not to mention a second-round exit for the Wizards in last year’s playoffs.

The Wizards got an early Christmas gift when All-Star point guard John Wall returned to the lineup earlier this month. The Wizards are just 5-6 without Wall this season and are 8.1 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

What To Watch For

1. Overall Physicality of the Game

2. Point Guard Battles

3. Otto Porter vs. Celtics’ Wings

Overall Physicality of the Game

There’s no love when these two teams get together.

Both teams should expect 48 minutes of hard-nosed defense, bone-crushing screens, and very physical, competitive basketball game on Monday afternoon.

Marcus Smart is one of the players at the center of this heated feud.

It’s no secret that Smart is one of the NBA's grittiest, in-your-pocket defenders and he’s been known to step things up a notch when he gets to play against one of the league's elite players.

Smart inadvertently broke Bradley Beal’s nose when he hit Beal with his off hand on a layup attempt two seasons ago. The two players also got tangled up again last season, which resulted in Beal earning a technical foul.

But, Beal isn’t the only Wizards’ player that has been frustrated with Smart’s physical play. The Celtics’ backup point guard has also managed to get under the skin of Wall as well.

Last year, Wall was ejected from a game after throwing down Smart in the backcourt, despite being up 20 points at the time.

Then, after their next meeting – a 117-109 Celtics’ win – Wall got into a war of words with former Celtic Jae Crowder. Benches cleared and teams were still at each other’s throats as they returned to their respective lock rooms.

Five Boston police officers had to be positioned between the Celtics and Wizards locker rooms after the game was over to ensure no further escalation took place.

Then, there was Kelly Oubre’s altercation with Kelly Olynyk during Game 3 of the Conference Semifinals.

After taking a couple of shots from Olynyk while fighting through screens, Oubre retaliated by charging at the former Celtics’ big man and sending him sprawling to the floor.

Both Crowder and Olynyk have moved on from Boston, so it remains to be seen whether or not this rivalry will be as heated as it once was.

Wizards’ forward Markieff Morris doesn’t think it will be the same type of game when the two teams clash on Christmas Day.

“I don’t think it’s as deep as it was,” Markieff Morris told the Washington Post. “They got a whole new team. You just can’t have rivalries when organizations change.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the same. I honestly don’t.”

Backcourt Battles

Last year, Wall went on ESPN’s First Take and openly declared himself as the best point guard in the NBA.

When Wall made those comments, he was in the midst of a career-year, averaging 23.1 points and 10.7 assists per game. But this year has been a challenge for the 27-year-old point guard out of Kentucky.

Wall’s number’s are down nearly across the board from last season. The Wizards’ point guard is on pace to shoot the worst field goal percentage (41.7 percent) since his rookie season in the NBA, while shooting a career-low 70.8 percent from the charity stripe.

On the other side, Irving is having the most efficient season of his seven-year career, posting career-highs in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, points per 36 minutes, usage percentage, and win shares per 48 minutes.

The head-to-head battles between Wall and Irving have been fairly even throughout their respective careers. Irving is 8-7 against Wall in his career, but had the advantage of playing alongside LeBron James in recent matchups against Wall.

via Basketball Reference — by Nick Raffoul
via Basketball Reference — by Nick Raffoul

Irving and Wall are two of the NBA’s best magicians with the ball in their hands. Killer crossovers, subtle hesitation moves, and behind-the-back dribbles, these two guards can split double teams and make defenders look silly in the open floor.

Let’s not forget about Smart or Terry Rozier either.

Both guards will bring a different dynamic to the table when defending Wall on Christmas Day.

Smart is the more physical of the two defenders, using his sheer strength to knock ball handlers off of their path and rip away steals. Rozier, meanwhile, uses his speed and quick hands to make life uncomfortable for opposing guards.

Otto Porter vs. Celtics’ Wings

The Celtics are one of the few teams in the NBA that can truly play positionless basketball.

The trio of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris has afforded Brad Stevens the ability to switch on ball screens without conceding mismatches on the perimeter or at the rim.

Otto Porter Jr. serves a similar role for Washington when the Wizards employ their small ball lineups.

It will be interesting to see if the Celtics’ wings can help negate Porter’s effectiveness, after the Celtics had no answer for Porter last season.

In four regular season games against the Celtics last year, Porter averaged 17.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.8 blocks per night.

He shot a blistering 67.4 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from beyond the arc against Boston – his best mark against any team in the 2016-17 season.