Celtics-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls were unable to beat the Boston Celtics on the road without Derrick Rose last weekend. It seems they must try to do it again minus their injured star at home this time.

With Rose likely to miss his fourth consecutive game because of back problems, the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls look to avenge their latest defeat while trying for a fourth consecutive home victory over the struggling Celtics on Thursday night.

Despite shooting 38.6 percent and committing 13 turnovers, Chicago (24-7) remained competitive without Rose during Sunday's 95-91 loss at Boston that snapped a five-game winning streak to conclude a 6-3 road trip.

"We got out-competed,'' Chicago forward Joakim Noah said.

The Bulls hope that will not be case Thursday as it appears Rose will again sit with a strained lower back. He remains day to day.

"(My back's) getting better,'' said Rose, averaging 22.0 points and 7.8 assists. "I shouldn't have any problems in the long run. I'm going to take my time and be smart.''

Owners of a 6-2 record minus Rose, the Bulls are growing accustom to winning without the reigning MVP. All-Star Luol Deng had 23 points with a career-high 11 assists while Noah added 22 and 11 boards as Chicago hung on for a 121-115 victory over Sacramento on Tuesday to improve to 10-1 at the United Center.

"I think the best thing you can do is try to get better from it,'' said Deng, who was held to 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting at Boston on Sunday. "If we had a choice, we wouldn't want (Rose) to be hurt, but that's the situation. We really think that it will help us. Guys are stepping up. Guys are getting playing time. We'd rather have this problem now than later in the year.''

Carlos Boozer and Rose's replacement C.J. Watson each had 22 points while Noah added 16 with nine boards Sunday as the Bulls split their first two games this season with the Celtics (15-13).

While both of those previous meetings were in Boston, the Bulls have held Doc Rivers' squad to an average of 84.3 points on 40.1 shooting during three straight home wins in the series.

Trying to reverse that trend at the United Center is not the only concern facing the Celtics after they fell for the third time in four games, 98-88 at home to lowly Detroit. Boston, which had won nine of 10 prior to this current rough stretch, opens a five-game trip Thursday.

"It's very disappointing,'' said forward Paul Pierce, who has averaged only 10.3 points on 11-of-32 shooting in the last three games. "I am very surprised by our inconsistent play. But maybe this team needs a little road trip to get it together.''

After he recorded 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds against the Bulls last weekend, Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 35 against Detroit, which outscored the Celtics 25-16 in the fourth quarter.

"So far, we've proven we can beat anybody and lose to anybody,'' Rivers said. "That's the maddening part. What we haven't proven is that we can be a consistent basketball team.''

Despite Rondo's big effort against the Bulls, he's averaged 8.0 points and shot 11 of 34 from the field during the Celtics' three-game skid at Chicago.

Boston could be without forward Kevin Garnett for a second straight game because of a hip flexor.

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