Boston (48-18) at Houston (35-34)

By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN, STATS Senior Writer Thursday, Mar 17, 2011 Tipoff: 8:30 pm EDT Fri Mar 18, 2011

The visiting team has won the last six matchups between the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets.

That means the advantage may be with the Celtics on Friday night when they look for a fifth straight road win over the Rockets.

Boston (48-18) is in a tight race with Chicago to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference. This three-game trip could be critical since the Celtics begin it by playing Houston (35-34) and New Orleans on consecutive nights.

The Rockets and Hornets are two of the three teams Boston has yet to beat this season.

“We’ve got the playoffs coming so guys are really buckling down,” forward Paul Pierce(notes) said. “We just want to finish off the season on a good note. So this is a very important trip for us to try to get all of these wins.”

Boston will be out to avenge a 108-102 home loss to Houston on Jan. 10. That game may not tell the tale of what will happen Friday since both teams will look quite different in this rematch.

Four of the five reserves who played for Boston in that game won’t see action, with Jermaine O’Neal(notes) out after knee surgery and the other three having been traded. In addition, Shaquille O’Neal(notes) is still out with an Achilles’ injury.

Two starters for Houston in that contest - Shane Battier(notes) and Aaron Brooks(notes) - have been traded. Second-leading scorer Luis Scola(notes) has missed the last four games with a sore left knee, and there’s no timetable for his return.

“It’s not fun but that’s just the way it is,” Scola told the Rockets’ official website. “I’m just trying to get it better and try to speed up the process as much as we can and hopefully be ready to play soon.”

The Celtics have won seven of 10 since Nenad Krstic(notes) and Jeff Green(notes) joined the team from Oklahoma City. Krstic has been starting in place of Shaquille O’Neal while Green is adjusting to coming off the bench.

Green led a strong effort by Boston’s backups with 19 points in Wednesday’s 92-80 home win over Indiana. The reserves were boosted when Delonte West(notes) played 16 minutes in his first game back from a sprained ankle after missing the last eight.

“The addition of Delonte really gave them some real good vibes,” Pierce said. “That unit, they are coming together. When Shaquille gets back, that’s going to bolster our second unit, also.”

The Rockets are in 10th place in the West as they try to catch Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Houston lost its first two games without Scola before winning the last two. Kevin Martin(notes) led five Rockets in double figures with 21 points in Wednesday’s 94-78 win over Charlotte.

The Rockets never trailed for the sixth time this season, limiting the Bobcats to 37.2 percent shooting - the third-lowest mark allowed by Houston.

“It’s a solid win for our guys,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We came out and defended them pretty well. We did what we had to do, which was control the game from the very start.”

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