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NBA-Monday night-Pierce plays last game vs Boston,Texas battle at San Antonio

The last time Paul Pierce saw the Celtics just happens to be the last time he took the floor in a competitive situation. He knocked down a 3-pointer on the game’s final shot to help the Clippers cover in a 107-102 road loss, then kissed the floor at the TD Garden, where he won so many games over 15 seasons and helped hang Boston’s most recent championship banner in 2008.

It was a nice moment, but the fact Pierce hasn’t played since illustrates just how far he’s fallen out of Doc Rivers’ rotation. That was the only time the 39-year-old has taken the floor in 2017 and that may remain the case if his head coach can’t find a moment for him tonight. While Draymond Green was wrong for his “can’t get no farewell tour” comments directed at the future Hall of Famer late last month, he wasn’t incorrect. Pierce is averaging just 3.7 points in his final season, shooting just over 36 percent.

His Clippers opened the month with losses to Houston and Milwaukee before registering a 10-point win in Chicago on Saturday night and are just 2-3 since getting Chris Paul back early following a 14-game absence after thumb surgery. L.A. went 6-8 without him and have to be encouraged that he was able to shake off a wrist issue that forced him to leave the loss to the Bucks early. He’s shot 14-for-26 from 3-point range since returning, so the hope is that he can finish these final six weeks on a strong note in order to help the Clips clinch a top-four seed in the Western Conference, securing the homecourt advantage in a first-round series that goes with it. They open the week fifth, 1.5 games behind Utah, but are just 2.5 games up on Oklahoma City, which sits in seventh place. This will be the Clippers’ final home game until March 11, as they’ll be on the road in Memphis and Minnesota later this week.

The Celtics looked like they were going to be flying into town fresh off a win in Phoenix since they were putting on the finishing touches on what would’ve been a third straight win, but a wild finish robbed them of that. After blowing a 3-point lead they held with 20 seconds left when Eric Bledsoe made his second of two late layups with four seconds left, All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had uncharacteristically left the door open with a free-throw miss, called for the ball to try and frantically get up the floor and fumbled it away. Rookie Tyler Ulis scooped it up and sent everyone home with a game-winning 3-pointer.

Boston has only lost consecutive games once since Jan. 25, so it will be looking to bounce back quickly in order to keep the heat on Cleveland in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. The Celtics’ 19-14 road record is the best in the East and fifth-best overall, and they just made themselves at home at Staples Center to open their current Western swing with a 115-95 win at the Lakers on Friday. This will be their 10th road game in a 13-game stretch with their next to stops coming in Oakland and Denver, so they could really come to regret Sunday night’s collapse if it leads to a skid.

Boston starters Al Horford (elbow sprain) and Avery Bradley (hamstring strain) missed the Suns loss. Horford’s issue isn’t considered a long-term issue, but he’s not a lock to be back out there tonight against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Bradley sitting was more of a precaution to get him some rest with a back-to-back in store, so he’ll be expected to take the floor. If Horford can’t go, Jonas Jerebko is expected to start again next to Amir Johnson with Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller and Jordan Mickey all available off the bench.

The Clippers are looking to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Celtics for the first time since ’08, when Rivers and Pierce were on the other side. L.A. has won five of seven in the series and haven’t lost at home against Boston since March 2012.

The top teams in the Southwest Division will battle for the final time this regular season as the Spurs look to put more distance between themselves and the Rockets with a third straight win against their in-state rival, who they lead by five games. Each of this season’s contests has been close and come in under the posted total, with today’s number opening at 220, the highest seen in a game in this series in years.

Consider it part of the Mike D’Antoni effect, as the top candidate for Coach of the Year will also be looking to engineer a sweep of both meetings in San Antonio, something the Rockets have pulled off only once in the last eight years. The Spurs have won eight of 10 over the Rockets, which includes back-to-back wins in Houston, the most recent of which came in comeback fashion on Dec. 20. James Harden scored 31 points but shot 1-for-11 from 3-point range in that loss, while the Spurs made 12-of-23 shots from beyond the arc to overcome Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combining to shoot 11-for-30. Leonard committed seven turnovers in that game, so both teams will look for a better effort here.

The Rockets have since added elite bench scorer Lou Williams since they last saw the Spurs and come in off an impressive 123-109 win over Memphis on Saturday. Harden had 33 points and 11 assists, strengthening his case for MVP by securing his league-leading 49th double-double. Houston has won four of five but still hasn’t been able to make up ground on San Antonio, which owns the NBA’s longest winning streak at seven games. The Spurs registered overtime wins against New Orleans and Minnesota over the weekend, clinching a 20th straight playoff berth.

Although Tony Parker has been out of the lineup with a quad contusion and has been bothered by nagging injuries, both he and Manu Ginobili will be available tonight, which means this team is at full strength.

Pau Gasol has provided a major boost since returning from a broken finger and is averaging 16 points and 7.8 rebounds in 26.8 minutes off the bench. Considering he and Aldridge struggled defensively earlier this season when Gregg Popovich was starting them in tandem, it appears that having him fill a reserve role is the best may to maximize his efficiency. Houston’s ability to run the floor and punish opponents via the pick-and-roll could limit his effectiveness here, but he’s clearly returned with fresh legs, which means San Antonio will get a great look at how to get the most out of him against the Rockets should the teams wind up meeting in a playoff series.

Houston has averaged 129 points in their four wins since the All-Star break and were held to 108 in their lone loss against Indiana, so D’Antoni’s wish to try and get up 50 3-point shots per game is clearly paying dividends. It will be interesting to see how the Spurs look to slow them down or if they show off their own firepower in a track meet. Only one opponent has managed to score 100 or more points against San Antonio in its last nine games. The under is 7-2 in that span.

Injury Concerns

Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (14.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg) sat out the Magic’s 115-114 loss to the Wizards on Sunday with a sore Achilles and is questionable to suit up against New York. After blowing a 16-point halftime lead in a game it led by double-digits entering the fourth, Orlando will look to avoid consecutive home losses against the Knicks in a six-day span. Vucevic left that March 1 game after reaching his averages in less than 27 minutes action, so the Magic can certainly use him against Kristaps Porzingis, whose 20 points led the way in that 101-90 win.

After sitting out Saturday’s 120-92 loss in Miami, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are expected to be back in the mix for Cleveland in this rematch. Bickering ensued at the very end of the Heat’s blowout win when injured guard J.R. Smith took exception to the Heat’s Rodney McGruder late dunk, leading to both benches emptying as time expired. Andrew Bogut, who joined the Cavs after reaching a buyout with Philadelphia following his trade from Dallas, is available to make his debut.

The 76ers have already shelved Joel Embiid for the season and won’t be exposing Ben Simmons either, but they’ve still got other injury-related issues to be concerned with. Center Jahlil Okafor (knee) and shooting guard Gerald Henderson (hip) are questionable tonight as Philadelphia attempts to bounce back from Saturday’s 30-point home loss to Detroit. Milwaukee’s Michael Beasley (Achilles) will be re-evaluated this week but remains out. He had taken Jabari Parker’s place in the starting lineup after the young forward tore his ACL last month.

The Pistons could catch a break as they try and remain ahead of the pack in the race for the East’s No 8 seed since Chicago’s Dwyane Wade (thigh) and Rajon Rondo (ankle) are questionable to play. The Bulls are just one game ahead of Detroit in the No. 7 spot and come off a puzzling 30-point second-half in a home loss to the Clippers where Jimmy Butler took just seven shots.

Head-to-head trends

— The Warriors look to sweep the Hawks for the second consecutive season, but should face a difficult test in Atlanta. The Hawks have actually covered the last two meetings and get Golden State coming in on a second of a back-to-back after it survived in New York on Sunday afternoon to snap a two-game losing streak. Six of the Warriors’ last seven games have come in under the posted total, including four straight on the road. The under has prevailed in 10 of 13 Hawks games since Feb. 2. Atlanta also played a day game on Sunday, losing 97-96 to Indiana when Glenn Robinson III hit a 3-pointer in the final second. The Hawks are currently 1-2 on a six-game homestand to open March.

— In the first game of tonight’s TNT doubleheader, the Pacers will look to continue building momentum as they take the floor in Charlotte for the last of a five-game road trip that has seen them alternate wins and losses. Indiana is on a seven-game under run and has covered four of five. They snapped a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Hornets with a 110-94 home win on Dec. 12, but have dropped their last two games in the Queen City. Charlotte just concluded a seven-game road trip, so it will be playing on its home floor for the first time sine Feb. 13. The Bees are 1-6 SU/0-7 ATS at home since Jan. 25.

— It’s a big night in the race for the final playoff spot in the West since five of the six teams in the chase are in action and four are in head-to-head matchups with one another. Denver is 1.5 games up on Portland and two ahead of idle Dallas as they take the floor against the Kings, who they currently lead by three games. The Nuggets have lost five straight times against Sacramento, including a blowout loss as the Kings opened the DeMarcus Cousins-less era in style against them on Feb. 23 with a 116-100 win. The Nuggets have been favored in each of the last four losses, while the over has hit in seven of the last eight games involving Denver and Sacramento.

— The Trail Blazers are in Minnesota looking to win a third straight game, which would match their longest run of success this season. Portland has opened March with home wins over Brooklyn and OKC and have seen the over prevail in each of its last four games. They’ll have Allen Crabbe in the mix to help lead the bench but are a slight underdog despit the fact they’ve won three consecutive games in Minneapolis. These teams will square off three times between now and April 6. Minnesota hung tough at San Antonio on Saturday to continue a strong run that saw them go on the road and blow out the Kings and Jazz. The under has prevailed in five of the last six Timberwolves games as Tom Thibodeau has finally gotten through in getting his young team to play at a more deliberate pace, allowing them to set their defense.

— On the heels of a wild, last-second win in OT in Sacramento, Utah returns home to clash with the surging New Orleans, which has covered three consecutive games, winning two outright. The under is 8-1 over the last nine Pelicans games as the posted total has been surpassed only once since they acquired Cousins at the All-Star break. The Jazz posted a 127-94 blowout win on Feb. 8 in the only meeting between the teams this season, but obviously face a far different challenge in dealing with both Cousins and Anthony Davis.

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