BOSTON (CBS) -- The Boston Celtics made a move at the trade deadline that is paying immediate dividends. The Philadelphia 76ers also made a pretty big move at the trade deadline, but they're still waiting for their prized acquisition to don a Philly uniform for the first time.
The Celtics will once again avoid James Harden on Tuesday night, as his 76ers debut won't happen until after the All-Star break. So the Celtics won't see the new-look 76ers when the two teams battle for the final time in the regular season.
But that doesn't mean it won't be a great test for the suddenly scorching hot Celtics. Boston has won eight straight but hasn't enjoyed much success against its divisional foe this season, dropping two of three to Philadelphia so far. The majority of this win streak has come against opponents who won't be part of the postseason in a few months, leading some to believe it's been a bit of fool's gold for the Celtics.
A win Tuesday night, even without Harden suiting up for the 76ers, would prove otherwise. With Joel Embiid on an MVP charge for much of the season, Philadelphia is fourth in the Eastern Conference at 34-22. Embiid has been an absolute beast throughout the campaign, and he continues to put up monster numbers against the Celtics, averaging 26.3 points and 13.7 rebounds in their three previous matchups. He had 25-13 in a win over the Celtics in Boston in mid-January, and a 41-point, 10-rebound game last time the two teams met in Philadelphia on Dec. 20.
Even after trading a pair of rotational players in Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, the 76ers still have a formidable lineup sans Harden. Embiid will have Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle surrounding him on Tuesday night, which is a solid starting five in its own right. Even with all that trade drama surrounding the team the last few weeks, Philadelphia has rattled off two straight wins and victories in seven of their last 10 games.
But the Celtics are now nipping at their heels, sitting two games back of the 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, and a win on Tuesday would be exactly what the team's resume needs to prove Boston deserves its spot in the middle of the playoff picture. Ime Udoka finally has his starting five intact, and it's destroying the competition in its way. The Celtics have become an absolutely dominant defensive team, and trying to slow down Embiid on Tuesday night -- or letting him get his own while making his supporting cast beat them -- is a great pre-All Star break test for the Celtics.
The Celtics are holding opponents to just 94.3 points over the last ten games, but their clout takes a hit when you see those numbers came against the likes of the Pelicans, the Pistons, the Jimmy Butler-less Heat, and the C-team Nets. Just beating the 76ers would give the Celtics some serious credibility, but holding them under the century mark would further strengthen their defensive reputation.
Defense hasn't really been Boston's issue this season, though. It has always been their ability to keep pace with other offenses, something they have obviously had very little problem with as of late. Their opposition factors into that, but Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are heating up, and Robert Williams III is living up to his reputation as Boston's third wheel. His matchup with Embiid on Tuesday night, with Al Horford and Marcus Smart probably chipping in on the defensive end as well, is going to be some high theater. Add in newcomer Derrick White, who has had no problem fitting in with the C's in his first two games in a Boston uniform, and the Celtics may actually have something here. (Daniel Theis may also make his Celtics re-debut Tuesday night, and has already been hit with a pair of fouls.)
We'll have to wait until a potential playoff meeting if we want to see the Celtics square off with the new-look 76ers. But as is the case whenever these two teams meet, Tuesday night's tilt is still going to carry a playoff feel to it, giving the Celtics a good opportunity to prove that this winning streak they're currently riding is no fluke.
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