Celtics

Celtics-Hawks preview: C's hope to halt losing streak

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's hope to halt losing streak

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics are on the road again, looking for what continues to be an elusive victory.

And the losses are now piling up to the point where you have to dust off some of the history books just to see when things were this bad.

With five straight losses, a sixth consecutive defeat would lump this group into the same category as the 2006-2007 squad which is considered by many the worst Celtics team ever.

That squad lost six or more games on three separate occasions. Among those three stretches of futility was a franchise-worst 18 straight losses.

Only two players from that team - Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo - are still around.

Players aren't talking about, let alone thinking, that this season is going to be one of the worst ever.

There's too much talent and way too much time left in the season, for such thoughts.

But with each setback, there is a growing sense that the Celtics are running out of time to turn their season around.

And it seems every game, a new reason pops up as to why they are losing.

Early in the season, it was their defense. Then it was the bench not being productive enough. Then the starters played poorly. Now it's the entire team unable to knock down shots.

It's enough to create a game within the game involving second-guessing on the part of coaches and players.

But things have not digressed to that point ... yet.

"We definitely don't point fingers around here," said Kevin Garnett. "We are going to keep working as a group."

And it is that group mentality that still gives this team hope that they can eventually string a bunch of victories together despite a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary.

"We know that we have good players and we're a good team," C's guard Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "We haven't played like it, I know. But we're going to keep working at it, keep grinding and we'll get there. This team has too much talent to be down for too long. We'll figure it out and get it going."

The C's can take an important step in that direction tonight against Atlanta which has had its share of problems of late having lost seven of its last 11 games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Points will be hard to come by for both teams which both two of the NBA's better scoring defenses. The C's come in giving up 95.8 points per game which ranks 8th in the league while the Hawks have limited opponents to 95.5 points per game which is the NBA's 6th-best scoring defense.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith: Bass continues to struggle at both ends of the floor for Boston, while Smith once again finds himself on the short list of all-star snubs. His omission has more to do with the Hawks slide than anything he did or didn't do statistically.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Leandro Barbosa was scoreless in about nine minutes on Thursday, but don't be surprised if he continues to get minutes off the bench. The C's offense is in a major funk right now, and Barbosa is one of the few guys whose strength is the ability to score in bunches.

STAT TO TRACK: Celtics need to keep the score below 100 points. The Hawks have split their last eight games, going 4-4. In the four wins they scored more than 100 points every night while averaging 105 points per game. In the four losses, they averaged just 80.8 points per game.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Heat in Miami. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Will Celtics be drained by emotional comeback win Monday in Dallas?

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

The Boston Celtics remain a team whose collective talents are far more valuable than their individual abilities.

But there are going to be nights when someone has to shoulder a larger burden of the team in order to win. More often than not, that “one” will likely be No. 11, Kyrie Irving. 

We saw in Dallas what can happen when Irving feels he has little choice but to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. 

The Celtics were desperate for a spark against the Mavericks and found it in Irving, who scored 47 points in leading the Celtics to a come-from-behind 110-102 overtime win. 

It remains to be seen if the Celtics will require a similar Herculean effort tonight when they take the Miami Heat with a chance to extend their winning streak to 17 straight. 

This team isn’t one to dwell on success in the past, even if the past was just 24 hours ago. But there’s no getting around how what happened on Monday night might impact what we see against the Heat. 

Boston expended a tremendous amount of energy in rallying from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter at Dallas, the kind of effort that may be difficult to replicate against a Miami team that you can count on to play hard from the opening tip to the final horn. 

Irving’s performance was one of the rare instances this season when Boston clearly could not have won without their top scorer having a big game. 

“When we needed it most, he made big shot after big shot,” said Al Horford. “He had such good rhythm, I was thinking, ‘just let him keep it going.’ He just kept being aggressive, taking really good shots. He recognized he needed to be extra aggressive, especially at the end and score the ball for us.”

Scoring could potentially be at a premium against Miami which allows 102.5 points per game which ranks ninth in the league in fewest points allowed. Also, the Heat will test Boston’s perimeter defenders. Miami comes into tonight’s game averaging 11.1 made 3-pointers per game which ranks ninth in the NBA. 

The Heat are led by Goran Dragic who is averaging team highs in scoring (18.3 points) and assists (4.7) this season. 

These two squared off earlier this season in Miami with the Celtics coming away with a 96-90 win as Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the way with 24 and 20 points, respectively. In that game, the Heat were without starting center Hassan Whiteside, who will be in the lineup tonight as the Heat try to bounce back after losing three of its last four games.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE