Washington (20-39) at Boston (26-36)

  • Game info: 7:30 pm EST Fri Mar 5, 2004
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The Boston Celtics might just exceed the expectations of theirown boss if they keep winning.

The Celtics look to stay in the thick of the playoff race and win their fourth in a row as they host Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards at the FleetCenter.

Boston has won three straight with Monday’s 117-96 home victory over Orlando to move into eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, one-half game ahead of Cleveland.

Making the playoffs didn’t look realistic for the Celtics a few weeks ago when the team lost 12 of the first 13 games under interim coach John Carroll, who took over when Jim O’Brien resigned on Jan. 27.

Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ executive director of basketball operations, said that the team’s future would be brighter if it got a high draft pick instead.

“I think the playoffs are great for the players, coaches and fans, but I’m not going to lie about it. For the long-term part of this it’s obviously better for us to get a higher draft pick,” Ainge told the Boston Herald over the weekend. “That’s just the truth.”

The Celtics are shooting nearly 50 percent (110-for-225) during their current win streak—their longest run since winning three in a row from Jan. 7-11.

Mark Blount has recorded double-doubles in his last five games. The 7-foot center had career highs of 28 points and 22 rebounds on Monday, becoming the first Celtic to have at least 20 points and 20 rebounds since Ed Pinckney had 21 points and 22 rebounds against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 19, 1994.

“Mark was outstanding tonight,” Carroll said. “Nobody works harder and nobody deserves it more. We needed these wins. We are now right back in the thick of things for the eighth (playoff) spot.”

The Celtics have won 11 of the last 14 home meetings with the Wizards, including a 100-89 victory on Jan. 23. Arenas missed that game with an abdominal strain.

But the third-year guard enters averaging 32 points over his last three games. He is shooting 58 percent (15-for-26) from 3-point range over that span.

Arenas had 27 points Wednesday as the Wizards defeated visiting Toronto 84-70 for their second victory in a row.

“Right now you can’t judge us on our record. You’ve got to judge us on how we’ve been playing,” Arenas said. “We’re on a roll, so we’re going to stay with it.”

Washington has won four of its last five overall, and is within 4 1/2 games of Boston for the final postseason spot. The Wizards haven’t made the playoffs since the 1996-97 season.

“Four out of five is a pretty good accomplishment,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “We see Boston and New York in sixth and seventh place in the playoff standings. We want to move up and that’s who we have to go through.”

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