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Celtics-76ers Preview

AP - Sports

Philadelphia had a relatively easy time beating a tired Boston Celtics team in the rivals' only previous meeting this season. Based on the way both teams have played of late, the 76ers don't expect things to be nearly as easy this time around.

Looking to bounce back from their latest defeat, the reeling 76ers try to prevent the visiting Celtics from overtaking them for first place in the Atlantic Division on Friday night.

Then riding a five-game winning streak and coming off a 97-92 overtime victory over Houston the previous night, Boston had little energy March 7 at Philadelphia, matching a season low for points and shooting a season-worst 35.0 percent in a 103-71 loss.

"We just didn't have it,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

Boston (25-21) trailed the first-place 76ers by three games following a March 11 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers to open a season-high eight-game road trip, but has won four of six since including the last two. Coupled with Philadelphia (26-21) losing three of its last four, that spurt has brought the Celtics within one-half game of the 76ers. Surging New York lurks three games back.

"You've got to look at the division right now. Have to,'' Philadelphia forward Elton Brand said. "We have to step up, win some games, and find a way to get some separation from New York and Boston.''

Despite his team's lopsided win over Boston earlier this month, Philadelphia coach Doug Collins knows the challenge Friday will be much tougher if the 76ers do not improve upon their recent play.

"Anytime you play the Boston Celtics, it's a challenge," said Collins, whose team has averaged 87.2 points over its last five games. "We know they've got a lot of weapons. We're not going to see that same team (Friday) night, that we saw before."

Jrue Holiday scored 16 points while Brand added 12 and 12 rebounds in Wednesday's 82-79 home loss to the Knicks, as the 76ers missed their first 14 shots and finished shooting 38.7 percent.

"We have to do a better job of being a better unit,'' said All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, who has averaged 7.7 points - well shy of his 12.2 season mark - on 34.8 percent shooting in the last three games.

Second-year Philadelphia guard Evan Turner had a career-high 26 points versus Boston two weeks ago, beginning a five-game stretch in which he averaged 20.0 points on 60.0 percent shooting. In the last three games, however, Turner has totaled 14 points and gone 6 of 26 from the field (23.1 percent).

Paul Pierce, who had a team-high 16 points at Philadelphia earlier this month, finished with 25 and nine rebounds Thursday in Boston's 100-91 win at Milwaukee. Kevin Garnett added 16 points and 10 boards as the Celtics improved to 9-13 on the road.

"This is a mentally strong group," said Pierce, who has averaged just 11.7 points in his last seven games versus Philadelphia. "We understand it's been a long trip. This is a group that wants to get the next win and make it a great trip.''

Boston won a season-high three straight away from home Jan. 22-31.

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