Boston looks to match its longest win streak of the season—three games— and try to keep up with the red-hot offense of a Phoenix team hoping to stay unbeaten on its road trip.
The Celtics are the latest sub-.500 team to take a turn atop the woeful Atlantic Division. It had been the New York Knicks for much of the season before they lost seven straight, then Philadelphia took over for a while before losing Wednesday at Washington while Boston defeated Indiana 100-86 for its second consecutive victory.
“If you win two in a row, you’re automatically in first place in the Atlantic Division. It’s in the agreement, you know,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked. “Hell, you lose two in a row and you can be in first place in the Atlantic Division.”
A victory Friday over one of the league’s top teams would let the Celtics equal their best run of the season, having also won three straight from Nov. 6-12.
Boston is two games below the break-even mark, but leads the division this late in a season for the first time since the end of the 1990-91 campaign.
“It’s good to be on top of the division, which puts us in the No. 3 seed for the playoffs,” said Paul Pierce, averaging 23.8 points and 9.7 rebounds over the Celtics’ last seven games. “But even though we’re in first place, we’re not playing like a first-place team.”
The Suns are.
They’ve been unstoppable offensively on the first two games of their current six-game road trip, averaging 127 points and shooting 52.4 percent from the field while making 26 3-pointers.
“That’s the way we’re most successful,” Steve Nash said of Phoenix’s spread-it-around offense which leads the NBA with 109 points per game. “If we keep the game under 100, we’re not going to be nearly as dangerous. It’s important for us to play like that.”
Nash, considered an early MVP candidate, scored 21 points and had 17 of the Suns’ 29 assists in Wednesday’s 121-115 win at Milwaukee. Shawn Marion posted his fifth straight double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Phoenix, which has won three straight since its six-game slide, also visits Toronto, Memphis and Minnesota before returning home.