Wednesday night’s regular season finale will be one last tuneup for the Boston Celtics before they open what could be a fragile defense of their NBA title.
For Ed Tapscott, it’s one final game as coach of the Washington Wizards.
The woeful Wizards will visit Boston with one more chance at their 20th win, and they’ll be playing with the knowledge that Flip Saunders has agreed to coach the team next season.
The Celtics (61-20) still won’t have Kevin Garnett in the lineup when they face Washington, although the team maintains that the star forward will be ready for the start of the postseason. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce also likely won’t play Wednesday as they rest up for the playoffs.
Boston is locked into the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed and will face either Philadelphia or Chicago in the first round, but Garnett has now missed 21 of the last 25 games due to a knee problem.
While the Celtics recently won six straight without Garnett, their chances of capturing a second straight title for the first time in 40 years don’t seem very good without the reigning NBA defensive player of the year.
They did get some positive injury news Tuesday, as reserve forward Leon Powe returned to the lineup for the first time since March 17, scoring 10 points in Boston’s 100-98 win over the 76ers.
With Allen suspended for one game, Pierce stepped up with 31 points, shooting 7-of-9 from 3-point range. Plenty of the Celtics’ usual reserves played big minutes down the stretch, with Tony Allen totaling 18 points and Stephon Marbury racking up five assists.
“I thought our bench was fantastic tonight,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s the group that’s going to win you games in the playoffs. To get them ready is important.”
The win ensured that the Celtics would open the playoffs against the Sixers unless Philadelphia wins at Cleveland and Chicago loses at home to Toronto on Wednesday. If both those unlikely results happen, Boston will play the Bulls.
Washington (19-62) will be going home after the regular season for the first time since 2004. The team’s struggles during an injury-riddled campaign cost coach Eddie Jordan his job earlier in the season, and interim coach Tapscott won’t remain on the bench, either.
Saunders, who has been a head coach in Detroit and Minnesota, has agreed to take the job starting next season, an NBA executive told the Associated Press, although the announcement likely won’t be made until next week.
“It’s just best that I not comment on that,” Tapscott said. “For me, it’s just a matter of focusing on finishing the season as strongly as possible.”
“You never want to feel like this again,” Washington’s Caron Butler said. “You don’t want to be associated with not making the playoffs - with the worst record in franchise history.”
Arenas has played twice in the last few weeks, but it’s unclear if he’ll suit up Wednesday. The Wizards may also be without leading scorer and rebounder Antawn Jamison, who left Monday night’s 97-96 loss to Toronto with an ankle injury.
The season series between Washington and Boston has already produced a pair of ugly results, with the Celtics winning both meetings by an average of 29.5 points.