Boston (18-4) at Chicago (8-13)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Chicago, IL
Temp: 34° F
  • Game info: 8:00 pm EST Sat Dec 12, 2009
  • TV: NBATV, CSCH
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls went toe-to-toe in a classic first-round playoff series last April, but the teams certainly don’t look like an even matchup now.

The Celtics already have one blowout win over Chicago this season, and they’ll be looking for a 10th straight victory overall as they visit the sputtering Bulls on Saturday night.

Boston was playing without star forward Kevin Garnett(notes) during the 2009 postseason, and the Bulls took advantage by nearly pulling off a shocking upset of the second-seeded Celtics, who advanced only after a seven-game series that featured a total of seven overtime periods.

While Boston (18-4) has returned to the top of the Eastern Conference with a healthy Garnett and a string of nine consecutive victories, Chicago has slipped closer to the bottom after losing nine of its last 11.

Five of the Celtics’ last six wins have come on the road, where they are 10-1 this season after opening a three-game trip with a 104-102 win at Washington on Thursday night.

Most of the team’s recent victories have been more comfortable, but Boston needed a late tiebreaking dunk from point guard Rajon Rondo(notes) to beat the Wizards.

“We believe we can win games in any situation, and that’s a good sign,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

Rondo finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds as all five Boston starters scored in double figures for the third straight game. Center Kendrick Perkins(notes) leads the NBA in field-goal percentage (65.8 percent) and Rondo leads the team with 10 double-doubles, creating even more balance behind the formidable Big Three of Garnett, Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes).

Pierce was unsatisfied with Thursday’s win after the Celtics squandered a 14-point halftime lead and allowed an opponent to score 100 points in regulation for just the fifth time this season.

“We have to continue to get better,” Pierce told the NBA’s official Web site. “We try to concentrate on playing better basketball. Putting two halves together and putting four quarters together is what is important to us. Yes, we are happy that we won, but we are a little disappointed at how the way we played in the second half.”

The Celtics couldn’t have been much more pleased with a 118-90 home win over the Bulls on Oct. 30, and the season hasn’t improved much for Chicago.

After losing nine of their previous 10 games, including home defeats against struggling Toronto and New Jersey, the Bulls (8-13) needed overtime to take a 96-91 victory over lowly Golden State on Friday night.

“We needed a win. Like I said before, it’s just the nature,” forward Luol Deng(notes) said. “You start losing your confidence, stop believing in yourself and you just want to put an end to that as soon as you can.”

Chicago improved its defense, holding the Warriors to 38.1 percent shooting after the Bulls’ previous 10 opponents shot a combined 48.5 percent and averaged 106.3 points. The Bulls barely averaged 90 points in that stretch.

“It’s been rough,” guard Kirk Hinrich(notes) said. “Hopefully this will get us back toward the right track of playing good basketball.”

The Bulls will try to buck another trend after struggling mightily when playing on consecutive nights this season. They’ve lost the second half of all four of their back-to-backs by an average of more than 26 points.

After Saturday’s game, it won’t get much easier for Chicago with the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers set to visit the United Center on Tuesday.

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Saturday, Dec 12