Nets-Celtics Preview

ALAN FERGUSON
The Associated Press

With three straight wins, the Boston Celtics are trying to make their early struggles a distant memory. A matchup with the New Jersey Nets might help that cause.

The Celtics will try to move above .500 for the first time this season Wednesday night when they host the banged-up Nets, losers of five in a row.

The absence of star forward Paul Pierce due to a bone bruise in his right heel played a role in Boston's first 0-3 start in five seasons, as did facing three 2010-11 playoff teams, including reigning Eastern Conference champion Miami.

Pierce returned for a 96-85 win over Detroit on Friday, and a home-and-home series with winless Washington helped the Celtics (3-3) continue getting on track.

Boston completed its sweep of the Wizards on Monday as Ray Allen scored 11 of his 27 points and went 3 for 3 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter of a 100-92 victory at the TD Garden. The Celtics matched a season high with 28 assists.

"The guys that are new are starting to understand that we're not a selfish team," said Allen, who was dealing with a cold during the game. "We don't just go off the reservation and try to score. We use each other, stay patient and move the ball. That's how we score."

Pierce contributed season highs of 21 points and eight rebounds, and rookie Greg Stiemsma had 13 points and seven boards in 21 minutes. Stiemsma was making his first NBA start in place of an injured Jermaine O'Neal (tight left hamstring).

O'Neal said he would be ready for Wednesday's game as Boston tries to continue its improvement on the defensive end. The Celtics have allowed an average of 87.7 points on 42.1 percent shooting during their win streak after their first three opponents averaged 106.0 points and shot 49.6 percent.

They would appear to have a good chance to continue that trend and earn a fourth consecutive victory during the visit from the Nets (1-5), who have lost their last five games by an average of 17.8 points.

New Jersey is hitting a league-worst 38.4 percent from the field and is near the bottom in scoring with 85.3 points per game. The Nets shot 37.1 percent during a 108-94 loss to visiting Indiana on Monday.

Deron Williams scored a team-high 22 points, rookie MarShon Brooks had his second 21-point effort in three games and Sundiata Gaines added a season-high 12. That guard trio was 18 of 37 from the field, but the rest of the team was 15 for 42.

"We're just missing good looks, open looks, missing shots they usually hit," Brooks said. "We'll go through stretches where we'll start hitting those shots and then we'll be fine. It's not time to get down on ourselves. If we hit our shots, we'll be fine."

Brook Lopez's absence has not helped. The center has yet to play due to a stress fracture in his right foot after averaging a team-best 20.4 points last season while shooting 49.2 percent.

Kris Humphries, a 52.6 percent shooter over last season and this one, has a sprained left shoulder and could miss a second straight game Wednesday.

Lopez, Humphries and Williams combined for 52 points in an 88-79 home win over Boston on March 14 in the teams' last meeting. That victory was only the Nets' second in the past 17 matchups.

New Jersey has dropped seven of eight in Boston and scored an average of 81.5 points while losing both visits last season.