Celtics-Mavericks Preview

The Associated Press

Even one of Dirk Nowitzki's best performances and Jason Terry's return to the court couldn't help the Dallas Mavericks extend their longest winning streak of the season.

The Mavericks could have an ideal opportunity to bounce back Monday night when they return home to face the struggling Boston Celtics, who won't have Rajon Rondo and will likely again be without Kevin Garnett.

Dallas (20-12) had won six in a row before a 104-97 loss at New York on Sunday. Nowitzki scored a season-high 34 points and Jason Terry had 13 after sitting out the previous two contests, but it wasn't enough.

Terry did not play Friday in Philadelphia due to "a personal situation," according to coach Rick Carlisle, and also missed Wednesday's victory over Denver due to a strained right quad.

The Mavericks had only one other player score in double figures - Shawn Marion with 14 points - and they gave up 32 in both the first and fourth quarters. Dallas entered the final period with a three-point lead.

"I thought we had the game under control, and then the fourth quarter, that really got the crowd back into it," Nowitzki said.

The Mavericks will next face a Celtics team that's dropped five of six and endured its third loss in a row Sunday. The 96-81 defeat in Detroit was also Boston's second in five days against the Central Division cellar dwellers.

The Celtics (15-15) have averaged 84.2 points over their last six games, 6.6 fewer than in their first 24. The absence of Garnett due to personal reasons didn't help Sunday, nor did Rondo's ejection in the third quarter for throwing the ball at an official.

Boston also turned it over a season high-tying 24 times.

"We just pretty much gave them everything they wanted tonight," forward Paul Pierce said. "They were able to run the ball on the break, get offensive rebounds on top of that, and we turned the ball over far too many times."

The NBA on Monday suspended Rondo for two games - he'll also sit Wednesday's first-half finale at Oklahoma City - and Garnett isn't expected to make the trip to Dallas.

Even if he does, the Celtics will likely have a tough time with Dallas as they've dropped all three matchups since the start of last season.

Pierce had 24 points and Garnett added 18 in last season's visit to the American Airlines Center but Nowitzki hit the go-ahead shot with 18 seconds left in an 89-87 Mavericks victory. He finished with 25 points while helping Dallas end a three-game home losing streak to Boston.

Rondo scored 24 points against Dallas at TD Garden on Jan. 11 but he and Garnett (16) were the only two Celtics in double figures in a 90-85 defeat. Terry finished with 18 points for the Mavericks and Nowitzki had 16, including the tiebreaking three-point play with 5.1 seconds to go.

Nowitzki's 27.5 scoring average against Boston since the beginning of 2002-03 is his best against any opponent.

Pierce has averaged 27.2 points on 51.4 percent shooting in his last six visits to Dallas.