Dallas (47-23) at Boston (38-32)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Boston, MA
Temp: 72° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Wed Mar 30, 2005
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Gary Payton’s bad back is contributing to what could be a costly late-season slump for the Boston Celtics.

Losers of three straight, the Celtics hope to have their veteran point guard in the lineup when they take on the visiting Dallas Mavericks.

Payton, the team leader in assists, managed just eight points in 35 minutes Saturday as the Celtics suffered a 105-99 loss at Detroit. The loss shaved the Celtics’ lead in the Atlantic Division to three games over second-place Philadelphia with 12 to play.

Boston also slipped five games behind Detroit in the race for the Eastern Conference’s second seed.

“It’s too late in the season to be losing like this,” Payton said. “We can go from third seed to sixth or seventh in a hurry.”

Making matters worse, Payton experienced further tightness in his already ailing back, forcing him into physical therapy and a chiropractic evaluation. An MRI taken Monday showed no further damage, but Payton, who has missed several practices over the last two weeks, is listed as day-to-day.

It was not certain if he would be available against Dallas, according to team physician Jeff Twiss.

Prior to its recent skid, Boston appeared to take command of the Atlantic with a seven-game win streak.

“We have to look at all the mental lapses tonight that hurt us,” Paul Pierce said after leading Boston with 32 points in Saturday’s loss. “Those are the things we need to clean up.”

The Mavericks didn’t have much trouble knocking off the Pistons in Detroit on Monday, posting a 95-88 victory behind 24 points from Josh Howard and a stifling defense.

With a renewed focus on defending their basket since Avery Johnson took over head coaching duties from Don Nelson two weeks ago, the Mavericks won for the sixth time in seven games, improving to 5-1 under Johnson.

“I’m not worried about how many points they have or what their shooting percentage was,” Johnson said. “I’m happy with the fact that we are taking teams deeper into the shot clock and making them rush shots. Earlier in the season, that didn’t happen—we were only playing defense for 12 or 14 seconds. To win, you have to play defense for the whole 24.”

The Mavericks’ recent surge has moved them four games ahead of fifth-place Sacramento in the race for home-court advantage in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.

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