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Nets-Celtics Preview

AP - Sports

The Boston Celtics used games against two of the Eastern Conference's worst teams to get to .500 and have another such opponent to try to get over that mark.

The New Jersey Nets, however, have won three straight on the road and will resemble an entirely different team that the one that visited the TD Garden nearly two months ago.

The Celtics have won eight of the last nine home matchups against the Nets heading into Friday night's meeting.

Boston (17-17) entered the All-Star break with five straight losses before winning 86-83 at Cleveland on Tuesday and 102-96 at home over Milwaukee one night later.

"I'm just glad we're back to .500,'' coach Doc Rivers said.

Rajon Rondo, who failed to score but had 11 assists against the Cavaliers, notched his third triple-double of the season Wednesday with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He's second in the league with 9.6 assists per game.

"The second half, he called 12 different sets and we got to the first option and the second option and it just looked organized and good," Rivers said. "And that's who we were and that's what we have to be. And I thought it was Rondo's doing."

Paul Pierce scored 24 points and Rondo had 12 assists in an 89-70 home win over New Jersey (11-25) on Jan. 4 as the Nets matched their lowest point total of the season.

New Jersey, however, didn't have Deron Williams, Brook Lopez or Kris Humphries in that contest. All three are back now with the Nets in search of their first four-game road win streak since Nov. 26-Dec. 6, 2008.

"We always do good on the road, we gotta do better at home," guard DeShawn Stevenson said. "I keep saying that, but we're a good road team."

Lopez's third game back since missing the first half of the season recovering from foot surgery was his best effort. The 7-footer made 17 of 28 shots for 38 points - one shy of his career high - in Tuesday's 93-92 win at Dallas.

"We kind of took the handcuffs off him. We weren't putting him on a minute restriction,'' coach Avery Johnson said. "He got a pretty good rest over the break, and we kept feeding him.''

Williams had a subpar effort with 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting, although he handed out 12 assists. He averaged 28.3 points over his final seven games before the All-Star break.

Boston's Kevin Garnett will likely be tasked with defending Lopez. Garnett has averaged 22.0 points and 10.3 boards in three games since missing two due to a personal issue.

"I'm going through some personal problems as of late but I'm good and I'm back and I'm looking at life a little different and just beat up and all that, just giving everything I have," Garnett said.

The Nets average 21.6 first-quarter points for the NBA's third-worst mark, but have averaged 26.7 during this road win streak.

"If we get off to a good start and we have a decent first quarter, we got a chance to win," Johnson said. "But when we're down by 14-16 points in the first quarter, which has been our M.O. from time to time, we're not very good."

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