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Hawks-Celtics Preview

AP - Sports

There are still two weeks left in the regular season, but the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks are rounding into playoff form.

With each team trying for a fourth consecutive victory, the Celtics look to continue their recent success over the Hawks on Wednesday night in this potential playoff preview.

Despite an aging core group of stars, Boston (33-24) has won 18 of 25 and leads the Atlantic Division by three games while sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference.

"It took a while," All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo said, "but we're peaking at the right time."

Because of their division lead, the Celtics are just ahead of fifth-place Atlanta (34-23) in the conference. The Hawks have won 10 of 14.

"We're already in playoff mode," Atlanta rookie forward Ivan Johnson said.

Boston has won three of four against the Hawks, including 79-76 at Atlanta on March 19 in the only meeting this season. Ray Allen scored 19 points while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combined for 29 as the Celtics prevailed in a game where both clubs failed to shoot 40 percent.

Pierce scored 27 points, Garnett had 24 and Rondo added 18 with 15 assists as Boston shot a season-high 60.6 percent Tuesday while beating Miami for the second time in 10 days, 115-107.

"When they shoot like that, it's going to be tough to beat them," Heat star Dwyane Wade said.

Boston averages 91.9 points but has topped 100 in each of the last two games while shooting 59.7 percent.

"When you've got it going like that, just tip your hat off. We tip our hat off to them," LeBron James said of the Celtics.

Pierce has averaged 22.6 points on 48.7 percent shooting in the last 12 games while Garnett has totaled 44 and gone 19 of 25 from the field in the last two.

Though Boston has played well overall and held Atlanta to an average of 82.5 points on 39.6 percent shooting in the last four meetings, the Hawks are a confident group. Despite having injured center Al Horford for 11 games, Atlanta remains in the hunt for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"Looking at where we are and looking at what happened from an injury standpoint, I think we're very fortunate to be in the position we're in," coach Larry Drew said.

Atlanta has averaged 112.3 points over the past three games, beating Charlotte twice and Detroit by an average of 17.3 points.

"We can't have any mental letdowns," Drew said. "Here we are with nine games to go and we've shown that we can be a pretty good ballclub. But any coach is looking for that consistency heading down the stretch. This is no time to let up and to not finish the regular season on a strong note so we can carry some momentum into the playoffs."

Joe Johnson scored 18 points and Zaza Pachulia added 12 with 16 rebounds as eight Hawks scored in double figures during Saturday's 116-96 win in Charlotte.

Pachulia, starting in place of Horford, has averaged 15.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the last two games against the Celtics.

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