Solid Stretch Play

The Boston Celtics haven't quite sewn up a playoff spot, but they know they'll be playing in the postseason. The Atlanta Hawks are hoping to join them.

The league-best Celtics look to win their fifth straight overall and eighth in a row at home on Sunday when they face the Hawks, who are hoping some solid play down the stretch can end their eight-year playoff drought.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Boston -11 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 196.5 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 78% of bets for this game have been placed on Boston -11 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Boston (45-12) and Atlanta (24-32) were two of the league's worst teams last season, and each put its top 5 pick in the 2007 draft to good use. The Celtics packaged theirs on draft day to land Ray Allen from Seattle, while the Hawks used their pick to grab Al Horford, who leads all rookies in rebounding.

Combined with another offseason acquisition, Kevin Garnett, the Celtics have cruised to the NBA's best record while the Hawks are in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta hasn't reached the postseason since making it to the second round during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign.

These teams have met once this season, a 106-83 Celtics' win on Nov. 9, and will meet once more in the final week of the regular season. Should the Hawks slide into the eighth spot, they could earn at least four more games against Boston in the first round of the playoffs.

The Celtics' Big Three of Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce has gotten the majority of opponents' attention this season, combining to average 57.5 points per game.

But the unheralded supporting cast had to step up when Garnett missed the last nine games before the All-Star break with a strained abdominal muscle, and they've continued to do so.

Kendrick Perkins scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Rajon Rondo had a career-high 16 assists on Friday as the Celtics beat Charlotte 108-100.

"The focus night in and night out is going to be me, Kevin and Ray. When they overlook these guys, they can really hurt you," said Pierce, who averages a team-high 20.3 points. "When you look at the championships being won, it is usually because of the great role players stepping up and getting the job done."

Perkins and Rondo are starters, but Leon Powe has been Boston's spark off the bench. He's averaging 11.3 points over his past three games and has scored in double figures in nine of his past 15 contests.

Not to be forgotten, Allen has averaged 19.8 points during the four-game winning streak, primarily thanks to being 13-of-20 (65.0 percent) from 3-point range.

Horford, the Hawks' big draft-day acquisition, has been solid all season, averaging 10.0 rebounds to go with 9.5 points. But in his past three games, he's been especially good, averaging 16.0 points and 12.7 boards.

He had a career-high 20 points and 11 rebounds - his third straight double-double - on Friday as the Hawks beat New York 99-93.

"My teammates were really feeding me the ball, and I was just trying to make plays," Horford said.

It's been easier for Horford and his teammates to make plays with Mike Bibby in the lineup. Bibby was acquired from Sacramento on Feb. 16, and has averaged 13.4 points and 7.0 assists in Atlanta.

He's averaged 17.5 points and 11.0 assists in his last two games, both victories.

"It's going to be tough to get us down," Bibby said. "When we play hard, there's not many people that can stop the young guys. They can go to the basket, they have jump shots."

One of Bibby's new favorite targets is Josh Smith, who is averaging 18.8 points and 11.0 rebounds in his last four games.

Atlanta's Joe Johnson, drafted 10th overall by Boston in 2001, is averaging 18.0 points in his last five games against his former team.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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