Celtics

WATCH: Celtics fans give Al Horford a strong ovation in Boston return

WATCH: Celtics fans give Al Horford a strong ovation in Boston return

BOSTON -- Al Horford didn't suit up against the Celtics on Sunday, but fans at TD Garden still got their message across to him.

The Philadelphia 76ers big man, sidelined due to a knee injury, was shown on the Jumbotron during a second quarter timeout and drew loud cheers as he waved to the Boston crowd.

Horford admitted before the game he wasn't sure how Celtics fans would greet him in his first trip to Boston since signing a four-year contract with the rival Sixers in the offseason.

But Celtics fans still have love for the 33-year-old veteran, and with good reason: Horford was the first big-name free agent to sign with the C's back in 2016 and helped elevate Boston to a legitimate playoff contender during his three-season tenure.

"He’s been a winner his whole career,″ Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Horford. “ ... He gave us an unbelievable bump when he came here and you can see it in Philly as well."

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Kemba Walker out vs. Suns but Brad Stevens doesn't think injury is 'a long term thing'

Kemba Walker out vs. Suns but Brad Stevens doesn't think injury is 'a long term thing'

The Boston Celtics are going to be down a couple of starters for their Saturday night tilt with the Phoenix Suns. Jaylen Brown will miss his second straight game with a thumb sprain while Kemba Walker will miss the game with a sore left knee.

Walker's injury popped up on Friday and he was deemed questionable for this contest before ultimately being ruled out. And before the game, Stevens provided an update on Walker and confirmed that he had gotten an MRI.

"Kemba got ahold of our doctors last night and said he had some knee soreness," Stevens said. "Went and got an MRI today, didn’t show anything structurally wrong, but very sore."

Though he will miss the game against the Suns, Brad Stevens isn't worried about Walker's injury sidelining him for too long.

"I don’t get the impression it’s a long-term thing," Stevens said.

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This is good news for the Celtics as Walker has unsurprisingly been one of the team's most important players this season. He leads the team in scoring averaging 22.1 points per game and in Thursday's game against the Bucks, his 40-point effort was the only thing that kept the Celtics competitive. Stevens even admitted that after the contest.

And with a key matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers approaching on Monday night, the Celtics need to be as close to full strength as possible as they look to beat their long-time rival. So hopefully, Walker will be able to play.

We'll soon see how the Celtics are able to fare down both Walker and Brown. In his stead, the contributions of Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward as playmakers will be more important than usual, as Walker was also averaging a team-leading 4.9 assists per game.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Suns-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics vs. Suns odds: Best NBA picks as C's look to end slide

Celtics vs. Suns odds: Best NBA picks as C's look to end slide

The Celtics will try to begin to reverse a slide that has seen them lose two in a row and five of their past seven when they welcome the Phoenix Suns to TD Garden on Saturday night.

The C's are just 4-5 in 2020 after back-to-back losses on consecutive nights at home to the Detroit Pistons and on the road in Milwaukee. Phoenix, meanwhile, figures to be a Western Conference also-ran at 17-24 but comes in having won three of their past four, including demolishing the Knicks 121-98 on Thursday night.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App. 

The Celtics are 20-5 against below .500 teams, but three of those losses have come in the new year (to the Wizards, Spurs and Pistons). So, despite a 16-4 home record and taking on one of the lesser lights in the West, the C's are no sure thing. 

Here are our betting predictions for Celtics-Suns, as well as two NBA locks against the spread.

(All odds provided by WestGate Superbook.)

Phoenix Suns at Boston Celtics, 7 p.m., ET

Moneyline: Is this the night the C's put it all together again? They'll be without Jaylen Brown (thumb), as they were in Milwaukee, and will be facing a guard in the Suns' Devin Booker, who two years ago went off for 70 points at the Garden against them. Still, with a three-game losing streak staring them in the face, look for the Celtics (-260) to come away victorious.

Celtics Mailbag: Readers have no shortage of ideas to get C's back on track

Point Spread: As for covering, a lot points to the Suns being able to make this a close one. Phoenix has four of its past five against Eastern Conference foes, is respectable 8-10 on the road, has a motivated Aron Baynes returning to Boston for the first time he was traded on draft night and there's the Booker factor. Also, DeAndre Ayton, coming off a 26-point, career-high 21 rebound performance in the win over the Knicks, missed this season's first matchup in Phoenix. Still, look for the Celtics (-6) to regroup for a double-digit win.

Point Total: It's the defense that has let the Celtics down recently. They've allowed 115 points per game in their past three (1-2) and a 51.6 opponents' field goal percentage. The Suns have the NBA's 18th-ranked defense and allow 114.3 points per game on the road. Go with the OVER.

Pat's record, pinch-hitting for Darren Hartwell, picking the Celtics' moneyline, point spread and point total: 7-8

NBA Locks of the Night

Philadelphia 76ers (-4) at New York Knicks: The Sixers are still without Joel Embiid, are on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, where they're only 7-14 and are playing their third game in four nights. Still, it's the Knicks. 

Milwaukee Bucks (-10) at Brooklyn Nets: Let's see what Kyrie has to say about his teammates after dealing with Giannis & Co. 

Pat's record, pinch-hitting for Darren Hartwell, picking NBA locks against the spread: 5-5

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Suns-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.