Heading into the season, there was ample optimism surrounding both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. The Celtics were fresh off of an Eastern Conference finals appearance, and the Wizards pulled off a blockbuster trade over the offseason in which they landed Russell Westbrook to pair with Bradley Beal.
However, due to a combination of injury issues, COVID protocols and chemistry concerns, neither the Celtics nor the Wizards got off to an especially strong start, and in turn both teams struggled to find consistency over the course of the campaign. The Wizards have played much better ball since the All-Star break, but they still finished the season under .500 (34-38), while the Celtics finished at exactly .500 (36-36) -- their worst winning percentage since the 2014-15 season. As a result, the two teams have to square off against each other in the play-in tournament.
The winner of the game between Boston and Washington will secure the seventh seed in the East, and a first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. The loser will have to play the winner of the 9 vs. 10 play-in game between the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets. The winner of that contest will be the East's eighth seed and face the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. With that said, here's a look at how our experts think the game between the Celtics and Wizards will play out.
Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics
Date: Tuesday, May 18 | Time: 9 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: TNT
Reiter's take: The Boston Celtics remain an inconsistent mess and won only three of their final 10 games. And Jalen Brown's absence will loom large. The Wizards have surged - over the final one-third of the regular season they played like a 61-win team - and their Beal-Westbrook duo will turn that momentum into a play-in win. Pick: Wizards
Ward-Henninger's take: Talk about two teams headed in different directions. The Wizards are one of the hottest teams in basketball, while the Celtics seem to be ready to put this disappointing season to bed for good. Boston's only hope is Jayson Tatum putting up a ton of points, but the Wizards defense has actually been in the top 10 in the NBA over their last 20 games. Pick: Wizards
Herbert's take: Washington ended the season on a tear, but Bradley Beal's hamstring is a concern and I don't trust this team to adequately defend Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker in the pick-and-roll. Pick: Celtics
Botkin's take: I have a feeling I'm going to get burned by what I'm about to say, but I trust Russell Westbrook right now. He's not settling for 3s but he's not just lowering his head either. Assuming Beal can give meaningful minutes and production, I'll take Washington over a Boston team that just doesn't have it this season. Pick: Wizards
Kaskey-Blomain's take: The Celtics won two of three meetings between the two teams during the regular season, but they haven't played each other since February, and the Wizards are a much-improved team since then. If the Celtics were at full strength the story would be different, but without Jaylen Brown, they'll have a tough time keeping up with Washington on both ends. Pick: Wizards
Maloney's take: The Wizards have been playing great basketball lately, and if Bradley Beal was 100 percent I might have picked them. But he's not, and the Celtics will be at home. Those two factors swing this to the Celtics for me, who even for all their problems this season are still really talented and should be able to win this game. Pick: Celtics
Quinn's take: Washington is 17-9 since April 1. Boston is 13-11, and many of those games were played with Jaylen Brown. Washington's offense and defense have both been ranked higher than Boston's since then. These teams are close in the standings, but in terms of recent performance, it's no contest. The Wizards are better right now. Pick: Wizards
Wimbish's take: I just want a K.D. and James Harden vs. Russ matchup in the first round, to be honest. Pick: Wizards
Thanks for checking us out, and good luck with your picks!