Nets-Celtics Preview

The Associated Press

The Brooklyn Nets are above .500 for the first time this season. It doesn't seem like they should have trouble staying there Friday night.

The Nets aim to match their longest winning streak of the season as they travel to face the woeful Boston Celtics.

Winners of four straight, the Nets (30-29) have locked down on defense, allowing 90.3 points per game during the streak and forcing an average of 22.8 turnovers. Brooklyn is coming off easy wins over two of the league's hottest teams, defeating Chicago 96-80 on Monday and leading by as many as 30 in a 103-94 win over Memphis on Wednesday.

The Nets are an Eastern Conference-best 20-8 in 2014, highlighted by a pair of five-game win streaks in January, to recover from a 10-21 start to the season.

"It's not always how you start, it's going to be how you finish," forward Paul Pierce said. "And I think with the way we've been playing as of late, since the All-Star break, since the turn of the new year, this is the Nets team that I envisioned from the beginning of the season."

Pierce will be playing his second game back in Boston since he, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry were traded to Brooklyn last July. Garnett won't be available Friday, missing a fourth straight game because of back spasms. Terry has since been dealt to Sacramento.

Also returning to Boston will be Jason Collins, who played 32 games for the Celtics last season. Brooklyn is 5-1 since signing the league's first openly gay player, though Collins has just three points and six rebounds in 53 minutes.

When these teams last played Jan. 26 in Boston, Pierce and Garnett were honored by the Celtics with video tributes and loud standing ovations. Pierce shot 2 for 10 from the field as he and Garnett were each held to six points, but Brooklyn won 85-79.

"As long as I'm in the league it's going to be tough, because I know I'm going to have to come back to the Boston Garden," Pierce said following the first meeting in Boston, where he and Garnett helped the Celtics win the 2008 championship. "You put so much energy in one spot, and there's always going to be memories."

While Brooklyn has won 15 of 16 against teams which are currently under .500, Boston has dropped seven straight and 23 of 25 versus opponents that have winning records.

The Celtics (20-41) have lost seven of eight overall while making 29.2 percent of their 3-pointers, second-worst in the NBA since Feb. 12.

They were 7 of 26 on Wednesday in a 108-88 loss to Golden State. Rookie center Kelly Olynyk made three 3-pointers and led Boston with 19 points off the bench after missing the previous two games with an injured toe.

Olynyk has been showing some promise, averaging 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last nine games.

"I think he's on the right progression. He's on the right path," coach Brad Stevens said. "I think he's rebounding a little bit better. He's shooting the 3 a little bit more freely now than he was at the start of our season."

The Nets have won five of six against their Atlantic Division rivals, including the last three in Boston.

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