Lakers, Celtics tune up for playoffs

Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics: Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.

Will the Celtics play their star players in this game, or will their star players play with revenge on their mind? The Atlanta Hawks lead the season series 3-0 and can get the series sweep tonight if the Celtics rest their star players or starting five. The Hawks beat the Celtics 110-99 last Saturday to prevent the Celtics from clinching a playoff spot. The Celtics did clinch a playoff spot, however, when the 76ers lost to the Nets on Sunday. If the Hawks win this game, it’ll be a big confidence boost for them heading into next season. Many Hawks fans thought this would be the season their team would make a run at the playoffs. Injuries, trades, and bad coaching played a large role in the Hawks’ dismal season, however. The Hawks need a true point guard, someone who can play next to Jason Terry. They also need a dominating center and power forward down low to dominate inside. The Celtics haven’t been playing good basketball lately. Paul Pierce, Ricky Davis, and the rest of the starting five need to start playing better defense. If they don’t play good defense and allow another sixty some points in the first half like they did against the Hawks last week, then they could not only get blown out tonight but also in the first game against the Nets in the playoffs. I think the Hawks can win the season series tonight, but it all depends on whether the Celtics’ coach sits his starting five to have them rested for the playoffs. If Pierce and Davis play the whole game, I look for the Celtics to win and avoid the season series sweep. The Celtics need this game in a big way to get their offense and defense together for the playoffs. The Hawks want to win this game. They want to finish their season on a good note, and a sweep of the Celtics is a good way to do it. I think Pierce and company won’t let the Hawks sweep them, however, so look for them to come up big in this one.

Prediction: Celtics 95, Hawks 89 Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trailblazers: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m.

The Blazers lead this series 2-1, and can win the season series tonight if they beat the Lakers for a third time this season. The Blazers just recently beat the Lakers 91-80 in Los Angeles. In that game, Damon Stoudamire was 10-17 from the field and finished with 24 points. The Blazers definitely need to win tonight if they want to go to the playoffs. Stoudamire needs to have another big game if they want to win and also hope the Lakers guards can combine again to shoot 9-of-35 from the field. Zach Randolph also needs to have a big game down low, as well as Theo Ratliff. It will be hard job to contain Shaq, but disrupting his game will be a big boost. The Lakers need to start playing Lakers basketball: namely, pound the rock inside to Shaq and let him dominate inside. Kobe and Gary Payton need to start driving to the hole instead of taking jump shots. Missed jump shots lead to fast breaks, and that is Portland’s game. Karl Malone needs to touch the ball more if the Lakers want to have a chance. Malone can create mismatches down low with his powerful inside presence. This will be an exciting game. Expect to see a different Laker team then last weekend. They would love to end the Blazers consecutive runs at making the playoffs. On the other hand, look for the Blazers to be playing their hearts out. They want to keep the season going. But I think Shaq and Kobe will get the last laugh in this one. Look for both of them to score more than 20 points.

Prediction: Lakers 101, Blazers 99