Celtics-Raptors Preview

The Associated Press

The short-handed Toronto Raptors had their point guard bloodied and their interior defense soundly beaten their last time out.

One can only imagine a motivated Rajon Rondo's eagerness, then, as he leads the resurgent Boston Celtics into Air Canada Centre for Friday night's game.

Rondo is playing the best basketball of his career as the Celtics (34-24) try to win their fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title and overtake the Indiana Pacers for third in the Eastern Conference. The point guard reached double figures in assists for the 19th straight game - matching a season high with 20 - and recorded his NBA-leading sixth triple-double of the season Wednesday when Boston won 88-86 over Atlanta in overtime.

That came one night after a big win at Miami.

"We kept fighting regardless of the other stuff out there. We stuck together, followed through and got the win,'' Rondo said after Boston's fourth straight victory and 19th in 26 games kept it two games behind Indiana.

Rondo's streak is the NBA's longest since John Stockton had a 29-game run Jan. 25-March 30, 1992. Rondo is averaging 13.7 assists while posting a 3.5-to-1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio during his streak.

"I know he's on a run," coach Doc Rivers said. "I don't know what it means. He's playing well, but I don't need the numbers to tell me that. He's just been playing extremely well, he's been spectacular ... and that's why we're winning."

Kevin Garnett had 22 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in overtime while Brandon Bass contributed 21 and 10. The Celtics also got valuable minutes from Mickael Pietrus, who filled in for the injured Ray Allen and had eight points and six rebounds in 29 minutes in his first action since suffering a concussion March 23.

Rondo posted one of his 19 career triple-doubles against the Raptors, but he was outplayed by counterpart Jose Calderon in an 86-74 defeat at Toronto (20-39) on Feb. 10 in the most recent meeting. Rondo was held to five points and seven assists while committing five turnovers, and Calderon totaled 17 points and 14 assists without a turnover.

Calderon is expected to play after taking three stitches to his right eyebrow in a 93-75 loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday after a collision with Jrue Holliday. It came one week after he absorbed an elbow in the same area from 76ers forward Elton Brand.

"He's going to look like Rocky whether he wants to or not,'' Casey said.

Casey, though, needs Calderon to fight on both ends of the court. Philadelphia had 27 assists and 58 points in the paint, totals the Celtics can easily attain given Rondo's current level of play.

"We just didn't have any resistance at the point of the ball and you have to contain the ball and I thought their guards did a really good job of getting into the paint, causing problems, causing guys to help and finding the open man," Casey said.

The Raptors likely will again be without leading scorer Andrea Bargnani, who has missed the last two games with a calf strain. Linas Kleiza may also be unavailable after suffering a sore right knee, though rookie Ed Davis did contribute 13 points and 13 rebounds off the bench Wednesday for his second straight double-double.

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