By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON It's that time of year again when teams look at these final few games as tune-ups for the playoffs.
This could not be any truer for the Boston Celtics.
Among those teams is tonight's opponent, Philadelphia, a team that the Celtics would have to face in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today.
These two have met three times, with the Celtics winning the first two meetings.
However, every game came down to the final minute with the total margin of victory in the three games totaling just eight points.
The last time these two met, the Sixers escaped with an 89-86 win.
Celtics guard Ray Allen recognizes that tonight's game may be a playoff preview of sorts for both teams.
But his motivation goes deeper than that.
"I'm mad that they beat us last time," said Allen, who had five points on 2-for-11 shooting in the loss on March 11. "That's got to be fresh on everybody's mind, knowing that we're at home and we have to right the ship."
Although Boston has the second-best home record (30-8) this season, they've dropped two of their last three at the TD Garden.
One of the few players who performed well for Boston in their three-point loss to the Sixers last month, was center Nenad Krstic. He had 16 points and a season-high 15 rebounds in the loss.
Krstic suffered a bone bruise to his right knee against San Antonio last week, and has missed Boston's last two games. He was able to practice with the team on Monday, and he will play tonight.
The news isn't as rosy for Shaquille O'Neal, who re-aggravated a strained right calf injury that sidelined him earlier this season. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said O'Neal might be back as early as the end of this week. On Friday, the C's host Washington.
But with only a handful of regular season games remaining, Rivers wouldn't rule out shutting down O'Neal until the start of the playoffs.
"If that's what it requires," Rivers said. "We're going to do whatever they (doctors) tell us is required. Other than that, I would love to play him a couple games."