The Boston Celtics have thrived with star point guard Rajon Rondo sidelined and are in contention for one of the top four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Surprisingly, one of the few teams they couldn't beat without him were the NBA-worst Charlotte Bobcats.
Boston visits Charlotte on Tuesday night looking to avenge its loss there last month as it tries to get back on track after its five-game winning streak was snapped.
The Celtics (34-28) lost 91-79 at Oklahoma City on Sunday, but they're 14-5 since Rondo's season came to an end because of a torn ACL. Boston is in sixth place in the East and within striking distance of the fourth seed.
"We're showing that we can compete against pretty much anyone, but we have to bring our A-game most of the time, and that involves not turning the ball over and not fouling as much," said forward Paul Pierce, who scored a team-high 20 points.
Jeff Green's improved production has helped matters, as the reserve forward has averaged 14.3 points in the last 19 games after scoring 9.6 per contest in his first 43.
Rondo's absence is still glaring at times, however, such as in Sunday's defeat. Boston shot 25.0 percent in the second half, scoring 34 points, and committed 19 turnovers overall.
"We were bad all game offensively,'' coach Doc Rivers said. ''We were forcing things and offensively the ball stuck at times."
That seemed to also be the case Feb. 11, when the Celtics shot 41.6 percent and lost 94-91 at Charlotte. Byron Mullens scored 25 points and collected a season-high 18 rebounds for the Bobcats.
Charlotte (7-24) has gone 1-11 since that win and is in the midst of a 10-game losing streak. Mullens has played less than 18 minutes in four straight games after averaging 14.2 points in his previous 13 contests.
"There's an overview of what you're trying to do, and when you're not eligible for the playoffs, then it's about development, it's about a system, it's about ... having the attitude that you have something at stake," coach Mike Dunlap said. "These guys are pros, and they understand that. You can't fake it."
Charlotte fell 104-87 to Washington on Saturday despite 29 points from Kemba Walker. He went 11 for 25, but had shot 29.1 percent in his six previous games.
Walker may have a difficult time turning things around Tuesday as he's averaged 12.2 points and 29.5 percent shooting in five games against the Celtics.
Boston won 100-89 over the Bobcats at home Jan. 14 as Pierce scored 19. Walker was 4 of 16 and scored 12 points.
Pierce needs 10 points to pass Charles Barkley for 20th place on the career scoring list with 23,758.