Celtics-Cavaliers Preview

The Associated Press

The Boston Celtics are going through some of their toughest times since teaming Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett with Paul Pierce prior to the 2007-08 season.

With each member of the aging trio missing time this season, the team is struggling to meet expectations.

Pierce says there's still time to recover, though, and Boston will look to begin that process while avoiding a sixth straight loss Tuesday night when it visits the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Celtics (15-17) stumbled into the All-Star break with their seventh defeat in eight games Wednesday, falling 119-104 at Oklahoma City despite 23 points each from Pierce and Garnett and 21 from Allen.

The five-game skid matches their longest since the franchise brought the three players together. They also lost five straight Jan. 6-16, but haven't dropped six in a row since a seven-game skid April 4-15, 2007 - a few months before acquiring Allen and Garnett in separate trades.

Garnett added 13 rebounds Wednesday after missing the previous two games for personal reasons. The three veteran stars have each missed at least three games this season, while Rajon Rondo has sat out 10 - including a two-game suspension before the break.

"We didn't finish off this first half like we wanted to but hopefully the second half, we can treat it like the second part of the season and come back refreshed and re-energized," Pierce said.

Boston, which has finished in the Eastern Conference's top four each of the last four seasons, sits in eighth place - just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cavaliers.

"We've got to come together as a group and understand we still have a shot at this," Pierce said. "We have tremendous depth when people are healthy. We know we can play when we're right. We know what we can do when we're right."

A loss in Cleveland would be Boston's 17th in 23 road games - including playoffs - dating back to last season, though it won 93-90 there Jan. 31, its most recent victory away from home before five straight defeats.

Cavs rookie Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 21 points in that contest, though he's coming off perhaps his worst game as a pro.

Irving scored only six points - his fewest since his NBA debut - and shot 2 of 13 in Wednesday's 89-84 loss to lowly New Orleans. Cleveland (13-18) fell to 4-4 on its longest homestand of the season, which ends Tuesday.

"It was a rough night," Irving said. "It happens. It's part of the game."

He played much better while scoring 34 points and earning MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday.

The No. 1 overall pick has already made an impression on the Celtics, scoring a game-high 23 points and hitting a layup in the closing seconds to give the Cavs an 88-87 victory Jan. 29 in Boston. Allen scored 22 in that game, Boston's lone loss in the last four meetings.

Cleveland has been shaky defensively, ranking 23rd in the league with 97.3 points allowed per game, but Boston is averaging only 85.2 during its skid.

The Celtics also are giving up an average of 98.2 points over the last five games compared to the 86.7 they were allowing prior to their losing streak.

Pierce is shooting 41.7 percent from the field - on pace for his worst in eight seasons - but has hit 56.3 percent in his last four against the Cavs.

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