Boston (48-19) at New Orleans (40-30)

By BRETT HUSTON, STATS Senior Writer Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 Tipoff: 8:00 pm EDT Sat Mar 19, 2011

In a game in which they were thoroughly outplayed, the Boston Celtics missed out on a chance to jump back atop the Eastern Conference.

With the way the Celtics have played away from TD Garden lately, home-court advantage is looking increasingly more significant.

Boston tries to avoid its first four-game road skid in more than two years Saturday night in New Orleans, where the Hornets hope to conclude a five-game homestand with a fourth victory.

Chicago lost 115-108 in overtime Friday night at Indiana, giving the Celtics (48-19) an opportunity to jump one-half game in front of the Bulls and back into the top spot in the East they’ve held for most of the season.

However, Boston hasn’t looked like a team intent on locking up home-court advantage too often lately. In three road contests over the past eight days, the Celtics have shot 41.7 percent - 19.4 percent from 3-point range - while dropping all three including Friday’s embarrassing 93-77 defeat at Houston.

Coach Doc Rivers didn’t play his starters in the fourth quarter as Boston trailed by 25 after three.

“I just thought, ‘Let’s just throw this one away,”’ Rivers said. “This is one of those games where they did everything better. You just go on to the next game.”

Home-court advantage in the first round is likely out the window for New Orleans (40-30), but finishing as high as fifth in the West - which would allow it to avoid the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks in the first round - is a distinct possibility.

The Hornets are currently percentage points behind Portland for sixth place, and 1 1/2 games behind fifth-place Denver. Most importantly, Chris Paul(notes) doesn’t seem to be showing any lingering effects from his recent concussion. The points guard has averaged 28.7 points, 11.3 assists and five steals in three games since his return, and scored a game-high 26 in Wednesday’s 100-95 victory over Phoenix.

“I just try to be aggressive,” Paul said. “I’ve learned, watching all the games, that if I’m aggressive early, it makes the defense collapse on me and it makes my teammates open even more.”

Paul had a similarly balanced game Dec. 31 at Boston. He had 20 points, 11 assists, six steals and five boards as New Orleans edged a Celtics team missing Kevin Garnett(notes) and Rajon Rondo(notes) 83-81.

The Hornets won’t have the luxury of avoiding Garnett or Rondo this time around, but Paul is at least catching Rondo in the midst of a horrendous slump. The two-time All-Star has totaled eight points in his last four games while shooting 4 for 29 (13.8 percent) from the field.

Rondo’s struggles have affected the rest of the Celtics’ cast of All-Stars as well. Ray Allen(notes) has scored in single digits in two of his last three road games, while Paul Pierce(notes) has averaged 9.3 points in his last three away from home.

There’s another reason besides Rondo’s problems that another low-scoring game could be on tap Saturday. David West(notes) had 19 points and made 8 of 17 shots in the win at Boston in December, but he’s averaged 15.8 points and shot 31.7 percent in his last four games against Garnett.

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Saturday, Mar 19