Celtics to get lineup boost vs. Blazers?

Celtics to get lineup boost vs. Blazers?

In the midst of a 4-5 stretch that has jeopardized home-court advantage come mid-April, Boston stands to get a much-needed jolt of energy for tonight’s crucial road test at Portland.

For the first time since March 11, head coach Brad Stevens is likely to deploy small forward Jae Crowder as one of his starters when the Celtics and Trail Blazers hit the floor at 10 p.m. ET. Oddsmakers at online sports book BetDSI prefer Rip City as a 3.5-point favorite in this East-West battle.

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Boston (43-31) still clings to the No. 4 seed in its conference despite an arduous month. Sans Crowder, the C’s accumulated a sub-.500 record and 100.7 points per contest. They had averaged 111.5 in the previous 28. The Marquette product simply gives Stevens a different dimension with that ridiculous wingspan and ability to constantly pilfer the rock from the opposition.

As large as Crowder looms in the frontcourt, however, this evening’s bout probably boils down to execution along the perimeter. Portland guards Damian Lillard (25.4 points a game) and C.J. McCollum (20.7) tend to go especially bonkers at the Moda Center, where the squad boasts a 16-3 mark since Jan. 10. That tandem will face stern resistance from Isaiah Thomas, the East’s leading scorer in March, and Avery Bradley.

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The Celts’ duo actually outclassed Lillard and McCollum four weeks ago, with Thomas and Bradley combining for 47 points. Lillard has historically struggled against Boston, in fact, shooting 35.2 percent in seven career clashes.

Buoyed by Crowder’s return – and feeling a heightened sense of urgency as regards the standings – the visitors should keep things tight well into the fourth quarter. Also bear in mind that the Blazers (39-36) possess just three victories in their past nine home affairs vs. the Celtics.

THURSDAY NBA FREE PICK: BOSTON +3.5

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