The Boston Celtics continue to slide - and with it, their chances of improving their playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference.
Struggling to adjust in the wake of a significant injury, Boston on Wednesday night visits a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is dealing with its own injury problems and is also mired in a five-game losing streak.
The Celtics (36-34) are only a little more than two weeks removed from a five-game winning streak, but have since gone 2-7 and are a defeat away from matching a season-worst six-game skid from Jan. 16-25. They were in a three-way tie for fifth place in the East on March 16, but are now in seventh, 2 1/2 games back of sixth-place Atlanta.
Tuesday's 100-85 home loss to the Knicks marked their second straight game without Kevin Garnett, who is out with inflammation in his left ankle and a return date is uncertain. Courtney Lee also missed his second game in a row because of a sprained left ankle, with Jordan Crawford starting and scoring 14 points.
Although Garnett is the team's leading rebounder (7.8 rpg) and second-leading scorer (14.9 ppg), coach Doc Rivers doesn't buy his absence as much of an excuse.
"Kevin's not playing. I don't worry about it," Rivers said. "Overall, we were pretty bad. Kevin had nothing to do with that."
Playing without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have struggled with turnovers, committing an average of 16.8 per game during their skid compared to opponents' 13.2. That could be trouble even against the Cavaliers (22-47), who have the league's third-fewest wins but are averaging a league-low 12.9 turnovers since New Year's Day. Cleveland is also forcing an average of 16.6 turnovers in its last five games.
Boston coughed up 20 turnovers Tuesday leading to 17 points for the Knicks.
"We've got to get back to playing with more energy, forcing a lot of turnovers like we were three or four weeks ago," said Paul Pierce, averaging 20.4 points on 53.0 percent shooting over his last 14 games. "Turning the ball over less if we're going to give ourselves a chance."
After blowing a 27-point lead to Miami last Wednesday, things got even worse for the Cavaliers in a 116-78 loss to Houston on Friday - their largest margin of defeat this season.
"As I told our guys, it was the first game in a long time that I saw us being very disconnected on both ends of the floor," coach Byron Scott said.
Cleveland is being outrebounded by an average of 9.4 during its slide while letting opponents average 108.0 points on 50.6 percent shooting. Friday marked the ninth time in 11 games the Cavaliers were held to less than 100 points.
Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Dion Waiters (knee) have both been ruled out. Irving, who has missed six straight, may miss the rest of the season, while Waiters is expected to be re-evaluated this week, but he's out indefinitely after missing the last two contests.
For the Celtics, Jeff Green continues to play well since making his first start of the season on Feb. 22, averaging 15.9 points in 16 games.
The teams split two earlier meetings this season, with Pierce notching a season-high 40 points on 13-of-16 shooting in a 103-91 win on Dec. 19. But he struggled in a 95-90 loss in Cleveland on Jan. 22, going 3 of 15 for 12 points with four turnovers. Irving had 40 points in that game.
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