Boston Celtics Hoping To Cement Third Place As They Face Off Against Houston Rockets
Pat Sullivan/AP Photo

Many positions may seem concrete in the NBA at this point of the season, but one door that is very much open is the race for third in the Eastern Conference. It seems like every week another franchise is in the spotlight for third, but now, the Boston Celtics have slowly pulled away from the pack. The 17-time NBA Championship winners currently boast a win percentage of exactly .600 percent, and a win tonight over the Houston Rockets could see them pull away more.

The Rockets, led by star man James Harden, are currently sat eighth in the Western Conference. Despite being mid-table, they have it all to play for, as with a few good results, they could be as high as sixth. The Rockets currently sit at exactly 32-32 for the season.

Previous Matchup

The Celtics and the Rockets have met once this season, back in November, at the Toyota Center in Houston. The game that night finished comfortably in the away side's favour, ending 111-95.

The top scorer was Isaiah Thomas, who shot 23 off an impressive return of nine-from-twelve. The Celtics also had Avery Bradley to thank, as he scored 21 off the bench. 

The Rockets were far below their usual standards scoring-wise that night, with Trevor Ariza the side's top scorer with 19. Harden grabbed just 16 points and three assists.

Recent Form

Houston have enjoyed indifferent form recently, having won three of their last five games, but having won just five of their last ten. They impressively beat the Toronto Raptors last Sunday, but have also lost to the likes of the Milwuakee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans recently, two teams both within the bottom four teams in their respective conferences. The Rockets have still retained their ability to score though, having only scored less than 100 points in two of their games since the start of February. 

The Celtics have lost just three of their last ten games, and returned to winning ways with an win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. Prior to their weekend loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston went on an impressive five-game winning run, propelling them to their current third place. 

The Celtics and the Rockets are two of the highest scoring teams in the NBA this season, both averaging over 105 points per game, and sitting fourth and fifth respectively in the top-scorers table. 

'The Little Man' - 'Fear The Beard'

The big matchup tonight will be 2016 All-Star reserves Isaiah Thomas and James Harden. Both have been their team's star player, with the former being a revelation since joining the Celtics in 2015.

Thomas has averaged 21.8 points, the third best of any point guard in the league. He has also have averaged 6.6 assists, and has been his side's top scorer in the Celtics last four games.

James Harden is currently the NBA's second highest average scorer, with exactly 29.0, only sitting behind Stephen Curry. Since the start of February, Harden has scored 40 or more on three occasions, whilst also sinking 39 on one occasion. 

25-year old Avery Bradley will be another key man for the Celtics, having averaged over 15 points per game. Dwight Howard's rebounding ability will be vital for the away side too, with the center having averaged 12.1 a game, on top of an average 15 points.

James Harden scored 40 points and grabbed 14 assists as his side beat the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Can he find that scoring form tonight? Credit: Gary Coronado/Houston Chronicle

Injuries

Kelly Olynyk, who has averaged 10.1 points per game, is unlikely to feature due to a shoulder injury, but is the only player missing for Boston.

The Rockets boast a clean bill of health, and received FIBA clearance on Wednesday with regards to the signing of Andre Goudelock. The former Los Angleles Laker last played in China for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, and is now registered for selection.

Tip-off is 7:30 PM E.T at the TD Garden.

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