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Celtics-Wizards Preview

AP - Sports

The four-time defending Atlantic Division-champion Boston Celtics have finally earned their first victory of the season.

It seems like it could be a while before the Washington Wizards get theirs.

The Celtics hope to build on their first win as they open a home-and-home set with the lowly Wizards on Sunday night in the nation's capital.

After opening the season with three straight road losses, Boston (1-3) defeated Detroit 96-85 in Friday's home opener to avoid the franchise's first 0-4 start since 1969-70. The Celtics struggled defensively in the defeats, allowing an average of 106.0 points, but came up with several key stops against the overmatched Pistons.

"I don't think we played particularly well in those three games, but one thing I know is we know how to play basketball,'' Ray Allen said. "We like who we have on our team.''

Allen probably especially likes having Paul Pierce on the floor.

After missing the first three games with a bruised right heel and participating in just one practice, Pierce had 12 points, five assists and four rebounds in 23 minutes against Detroit. The nine-time All-Star, who averaged a team-best 18.9 points last season, provided energy and drew defensive attention, opening opportunities for teammates.

"He gives us a swagger that was definitely missing the first three games,'' Celtics guard Keyon Dooling said.

Jermaine O'Neal also stepped up for Boston on Friday, finishing with a team-high 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting after totaling eight on 3 of 12 shooting in the first three games.

While the Celtics seem poised to get back to .500 with back-to-back games against Washington with their starting five intact, little suggests the Wizards are in any position to climb out of the basement of the Eastern Conference. These teams play again Monday in Boston, and the schedule doesn't get much easier for the Wizards, who travel to Orlando on Wednesday before hosting New York two days later.

Washington (0-3) did split the season series with the Celtics in 2010-11, winning the two games at the Verizon Center by a combined three points, but Pierce, Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo all sat out the April 11 loss to rest for the playoffs.

The Wizards are struggling mightily offensively this season, averaging 82.7 points on 38.6 percent shooting, and if Boston's defense can duplicate the effort it had against Detroit, it could spell more trouble for Washington.

"Bottom line is we got to figure it out and figure it out quick," Flip Saunders said after Friday's 102-81 loss to Milwaukee. "We can't have it where we have some guys go out and compete, or if some guys are not playing well offensively it takes away our energy defensively.''

Saunders points to the sluggish play of John Wall for some of the team's problems. Wall finished with six points against the Bucks, and is averaging 13.0 points on 27.0 percent shooting and 4.7 turnovers.

"John has a tendency to get down on himself when he is not making plays," Saunders said. "We got down big, he got down.''

As a rookie against the Celtics last season, Wall averaged 20.0 points in three games, two wins.

Boston outscored the Wizards by an average of 23.5 points in its two victories in last season's series. Pierce averaged 22.5 points on 50.0 percent shooting, but he scored just 12 in an 85-83 loss in Washington on Jan. 22.

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