Wednesday’s trip to Orlando kicks off a difficult stretch for Boston. The Celtics (29-13, 17-25 ATS) play four games in five days with two of the remaining three contests coming at Atlanta and at home against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“These are big, big, big games,” said forward Glen Davis. “If you're not a competitor, you don't need to play in these games. This is a great opportunity for us to keep our winning streak alive and also get better against playoff-contending teams.”
The “winning streak” of which Davis speaks is a modest two-game home surge at the expense of Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers. Still, it’s a good sign after Boston had lost three in a row, including two at home to Chicago and Dallas.
Not coincidentally, the pair of victories coincided with the comeback of Kevin Garnett (hyperextended knee), who averaged 15 points in the two games. Rasheed Wallace (groin), also improving by the day, added 14 points against Portland.
Vince Carter (16.4 ppg) and Jameer Nelson (11.8 ppg, 4.8 apg) are back with a vengeance for the Magic (29-16, 22-22-1 ATS). Carter, who missed three games earlier this month with a shoulder injury, scored 21 points in a Saturday night win in Charlotte and he has posted double-figures in each of his past three contests.
“I told him that we saw ‘Vinsanity’ tonight,” star center Dwight Howard said after beating the Bobcats. “We're going to stock his locker with energy drinks. When he's aggressive like that, it just opens things up for us.”
Nelson, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Nov. 18, also heated up in Charlotte. The point guard contributed 21 points and seven assists while seeing 39 minutes of action, his most extensive outing of the season.
Boston and Orlando have already played twice this season—once at each venue—and the road team prevailed both times.
The Magic were 6-point underdogs when they went into Boston on Nov. 20, coming away with an 83-78 victory. Nelson was still out with his injury and Howard scored only nine points, but Carter poured in 26 and Rashard Lewis added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Boston returned the favor on Christmas Day as a 5.5-point underdog in Orlando, emerging with an 86-77 win. Five players scored in double-figures for the Celtics, who limited the Magic to 5-for-26 shooting beyond the arc.
Trends and injuries
The Celtics are 0-5 ATS in their last five games. The Magic are 2-5 ATS in their last seven against Eastern Conference opponents.
The under is 4-1 in Boston’s last five overall and 5-1 in Orlando’s last six overall. In the last six meetings between the two teams, the under is 5-1.
Both teams are relatively healthy. In addition to the returns of Garnett and Wallace, Boston will get back Brian Scalabrine from a two-game absence stemming from a separated shoulder. Orlando, meanwhile, has no new injuries to report.
The Mavericks are on a bit of a roll, and it’s a direct result of their prowess in close games. Tuesday’s 108-107 home victory over Milwaukee was Dallas’ 10th consecutive win in one-point games, tying a record set by the St. Louis Hawks between 1959 and 1960.
“It's nice to win 10 in a row like that, but still we wish they weren't so close games, especially at home,” admitted Dirk Nowitzki. “Sometimes when you can't get stops you have to find a way to win with your offense.”
A big reason for the improved offense is that Jason Terry, formerly the sixth man, has started the past four games at point guard. Terry (16.4 ppg, 3.5 apg) scored 20 or more points in three of those four contests.
The Suns are reeling both on the court and off the court. They have lost seven of their last nine games (2-7 ATS) after falling at home in overtime to Charlotte on Tuesday night.
“We have to find a way to dig ourselves out of this,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We have to be men. It's everybody's fault. It's the players'. It's the coaches'. Nobody can escape criticism from this. As a collective group, we've got to do a better job of executing and we've got to do a better job of getting them in a situation to do that."
Injuries won’t make a possible recovery any easier. Grant Hill’s streak of 128 consecutive games played came to an end on Tuesday as a result of a bruised right heel. Hill (11.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is questionable for Thursday.
Leandro Barbosa (10.6 ppg) had a cyst removed from his right wrist earlier this week is not expected to return until late February or March.
The Mavericks were 4.5-point home favorites against Phoenix on Dec. 8 and the result was one of their many one-point victories. Dallas shot a dreadful 6-for-23 from 3-point range, but Nowitzki scored a game-high 33 and Josh Howard added 20 en route to a 102-101 win.
Dallas is 2-7 ATS in its last nine games overall and 1-4 ATS in its last five against the Western Conference. Phoenix is 0-4 ATS in its last four overall and 1-5 ATS in its last six home contests.
The under is 4-1 in the Mavericks’ last five road outings and 5-1 in the Suns’ last six home dates. The over, however, is 10-2 in Phoenix’s last 12 against Western Conference opposition.
The over is 4-1 in the last five meetings between the two teams and 5-1 in the last six head-to-head when the Suns host.