Nuggets-Celtics Preview

The Associated Press

Losing Rajon Rondo hasn't yet posed a problem for the Boston Celtics.

That may change against the hottest team in the NBA - the Denver Nuggets.

The Celtics attempt to win a seventh game in a row without their All-Star point guard Sunday night and prevent the Nuggets from a 10th straight victory.

Just over two weeks ago, Boston (26-23) appeared to be headed in the wrong direction, losing a season-high six in a row with Rondo in the lineup. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final game of that skid and the Celtics' season seemed to be on the verge of falling apart.

However, instead of falling further back in the playoff race, Boston has regrouped to win six in a row without its offensive catalyst, the NBA leader in assists and triple doubles and one of the best rebounding guards in the league.

In the six games since losing Rondo, the Celtics have outscored opponents by an average of 102.8-92.8 and hit 49.1 percent of their shots.

"Our guys just think they're good," coach Doc Rivers said. "We're playing selfless and free."

Boston posted its most lopsided win of the season Thursday with a 116-95 rout of the Lakers.

"We're in a rhythm. We're moving the ball," said Kevin Garnett, who is averaging 18.4 points in the last seven games and became the 16th player in NBA history to reach the 25,000-point mark.

There has been some good fortune involved in the Celtics' streak. Five of the six wins have come at home and four were against teams with records of 23-27 or worse. They also faced the Lakers without Pau Gasol and the Clippers without Chris Paul.

The Nuggets (33-18) figure to present a stiff challenge for Boston. They have won 15 of 17 and nine in a row for their longest streak since a 10-game run from March 30-April 15, 2005.

Although Denver has the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, no Nuggets were selected for next Sunday's All-Star Game in Houston, a fact that coach George Karl is quick to point out.

"We're going to try and shock the world and become the first team to win a championship without an All-Star," he said.

Denver is averaging 114.6 points during its streak, but only two of those victories have come on the road. The Nuggets are 11-15 away from home this season and have lost 18 of their last 21 in Boston.

Depth was again key for Denver in Saturday's 111-103 win at Cleveland. Eight of nine Nuggets scored in double figures and they outscored the Cavaliers 62-32 in the paint.

"There are only about 10 true superstars in the NBA, I think, but I believe Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, and Kenneth Faried are in the next 40 players," Karl said.

Lawson is averaging 19.1 points while hitting 15 of 31 from 3-point range over the past 10 games, but he made just 3 of 11 from the field to finish with 11 points against the Cavaliers.

He had 24 points in Denver's 105-89 loss in its most recent trip to Boston on Dec. 8, 2010.

Danilo Gallinari wasn't with the Nuggets then, but he had 20 points in a 98-91 victory over the Celtics on March 17. He's averaging 21.3 over the past six games.

Paul Pierce, who had 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting against the Lakers, is averaging 27.8 points in 13 games against Denver at TD Garden.

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