Another lengthy winning streak has the Boston Celtics atop the Eastern Conference and feeling confident, but Monday’s trip to Memphis suddenly doesn’t look like just another easy victory.
In order to gather their 11th straight win, the Celtics will have to defeat a Grizzlies team that has won four of five and is coming off an impressive blowout victory on the road.
Boston’s current run - its seventh winning streak of at least eight games since the start of the 2007-08 season - has included seven road victories to improve the club’s mark to 11-1 away from home. After opening their current three-game trip Thursday with a 104-102 win over Washington, the Celtics rolled to a 106-80 victory Saturday at Chicago.
Rondo, who has seven double-doubles during the winning streak, is averaging 9.5 assists and shooting 52.8 percent from the field, both career highs that have bolstered a starting lineup featuring the Big Three of Kevin Garnett(notes), Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes).
Boston’s other starter - center Kendrick Perkins(notes) - leads the NBA in field goal percentage (65.6 percent), and newcomer Rasheed Wallace(notes) could be getting more comfortable off the bench after averaging 11.0 points and shooting 8 of 17 from 3-point range in the last five games.
“We are just focused on us, trying to do the right things and do what we need to do,” Wallace told the NBA’s official Web site. “We’re trying to go out and play the way we need to play and execute the way we need to get wins.”
Pierce claims the Celtics aren’t satisfied with their early success, which has become standard after the team started 27-2 last season and 29-3 in 2007-08.
“We’re nowhere near a perfect team,” Pierce said. “We’re still trying to build, trying to get better.”
While the Celtics have won their last two visits to Memphis by an average of 24.0 points, they’ll have to match up with a Grizzlies team that is showing major improvement this season.
Their status as a Western Conference doormat looked unlikely to change after they lost eight of their first nine games, but the Grizzlies (10-13) have gone 9-5 since, including recent home wins over Dallas and Cleveland.
“I just wanted to make my presence known,” Gay said.
The fourth-year forward out of Connecticut is averaging career highs with 21.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent from the field - also a career best.
He’s had plenty of help, with Spanish center Marc Gasol(notes) averaging 14.4 points and 9.8 rebounds in his second season and forming a dangerous interior combination with newcomer Zach Randolph(notes).
Perhaps the biggest change for the Grizzlies has been a more team-centered mindset - something the Celtics have stressed since acquiring Garnett and Allen in 2007.
“Since the 1-8 start we had a team meeting,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We went through some video and they called each other out. Each individual is accountable for every other individual on the team.”
The Celtics have won five straight meetings with the Grizzlies overall, three of them in Memphis. They are 12-4 against the Grizzlies franchise since it moved from Vancouver in 2001.