Celtics-76ers Preview

The Associated Press

The Boston Celtics have done nothing but win Atlantic Division titles since Kevin Garnett joined the team, and they're starting to look like they will capture another.

The visiting Celtics can stretch their win streak to a season-high six games Wednesday night and pull into a virtual tie for the division lead with the stumbling Philadelphia 76ers when they visit Wells Fargo Center.

Boston (20-17) has won the Atlantic the last four seasons since Garnett joined the club before the 2007-08 campaign. A 4-7 start by the Celtics and a 7-2 beginning by Philadelphia (22-17) made it seem like the balance of power had shifted south.

With trade rumors swirling around star point guard Rajon Rondo, the Celtics, though, are enjoying their second five-game win streak of the season as they continue to pull out close games. Their last two wins have been in overtime, including 97-92 at home Tuesday over Houston.

"We're starting to play good basketball, and we're starting to win games where we don't play good basketball," coach Doc Rivers said. "And that may be more important."

Winning close games has become a problem for Philadelphia, which has dropped eight of 10 but has been outscored by only five points during that stretch. The 76ers' last four defeats have been by a combined 19 points.

"We keep fighting," forward Elton Brand said. "One day we're going to break through. I think we're going to peak at the right time and start winning these close games right before the playoffs."

Coach Doug Collins made lineup changes for Monday's 97-93 loss at Milwaukee, replacing Jodie Meeks and Lavoy Allen with Evan Turner and Nikola Vucevic. Turner missed 11 of 12 shots for two points but had a career high-tying 12 rebounds while Meeks scored 13.

"I wanted to calm Jodie down a little bit, I think he's been pressing," Collins said. "I think he came down and hit his first four shots. And just to see, put Evan out there, see what he could do."

Collins was left lamenting a poor second half in which his club scored 38 points.

"We shot 13 for 49 from the floor in the second half," Collins said. "I mean, come on. Who are you going to beat?"

The Celtics are seeking their first six-game win streak since a 14-game run Nov. 22-Dec. 22, 2010. Paul Pierce scored 30 on Tuesday on the heels of his 34-point effort in Sunday's 115-111 victory over New York.

Boston and Philadelphia have yet to meet this season after the Celtics took three of four matchups in 2010-11. Pierce was quiet with 12.5 points per game on 41.7 percent shooting, Rondo averaged 15.7 points and 10.7 assists in three games and Ray Allen led Boston with 15.8 points per game.

Brand led Philadelphia in the 2010-11 season series with an average of 13.8 points.

The Celtics have taken 13 of 16 matchups since Garnett joined the club. He had double-doubles in all four wins on Boston's homestand that ended Tuesday, averaging 19.0 points and 10.8 boards.

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