Game 21: Celtics vs. Nuggets

at TD Garden, 7 p.m. | ESPN, WEEI (850 AM)

GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)

Rajon Rondo took himself out of the lineup just before the Boston Celtics' most recent victory. Despite the uncertainty surrounding their star point guard, the Celtics look to extend their winning streak while delaying a milestone for Denver Nuggets coach George Karl.

Boston hosts Denver on Wednesday night hoping Rondo can overcome the hamstring and foot injuries that kept him out Sunday.

Rondo sat out three straight games Nov. 21-24 with a strained hamstring, but he returned for the following four games and had at least 10 assists in each -- including 19 on Friday in a 104-92 win against Chicago.

He warmed up Sunday at New Jersey, but decided he couldn't play.

"It was literally about two seconds before the game was going to start," coach Doc Rivers said. "I usually don't like that. It was really a last-second cancellation."

Rondo's absence didn't seem to bother the Celtics (16-4), who extended their season-high winning streak to seven games with a 100-75 victory.

Nate Robinson made his fourth start in Rondo's place and scored a game-high 21 points with six assists. If Rondo is forced to rest Wednesday, Robinson likely will get the nod again.

"I just go about things the same way," Robinson said. "I just play the same way as if I was coming off the bench."

Shaquille O'Neal's status is also uncertain for the Celtics after he left Sunday's game with a sore right calf.

Paul Pierce scored eight points against the Nets, marking only the second time in his last 41 games he hasn't scored in double figures. However, Pierce has averaged 25.7 points in 22 career games against Denver, which hopes to earn Karl his 1,000th NBA head coaching victory.

The Nuggets (13-7) failed in their first attempt Tuesday in a 100-98 loss at Charlotte, which snapped Denver's seven-game winning streak. Chauncey Billups scored 25 points, but he missed the potential game-tying shot as time expired.

"It would have been something I'd have remembered if I won my 1,000th here," said Karl, who played his college basketball at North Carolina. "But hopefully we'll get it on this trip."

Boston is the second stop on a four-game road trip the Nuggets hope doesn't resemble their previous contests away from home. Denver is 3-6 on the road -- including five losses in the last six -- compared to 10-1 at the Pepsi Center.

Read the full preview HERE.


    Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

    Carmelo Anthony drives on Paul Pierce.

  • Pierce vs. Melo: This matchup needs no introduction, so we'll just let Pierce break it down: "I put [Carmelo Anthony] in that same class with people who put me in the ice tub after the game, with Ron Artest and LeBron [James], he’s right there in that same class. He’s strong up top, so you’ve really got to body in him, he likes to get layups. So it’s a constant battle every time on offense because they look for him 90 percent of the time, so I know I’ve got my work cut out. A lot of screens for him, a lot of isolations for him. He likes to duck his head, get to the rim a lot. So it’s definitely a challenge and you’ve gotta definitely stand your ground with Carmelo or he’ll make you look bad."

  • Offense vs. Defense: The Nuggets are averaging 105.8 points per game this season, fifth best in the NBA. The Celtics have thrived on defense during their own seven-game winning streak and that must continue Wednesday night. "They’re just tough, a great offensive team," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "They’re so versatile. They put guys in different spots, they go small, they go big, they have the 'Ty Lawson/Chauncey Billups' lineup, they got the 'Carmelo at the 4' lineup. All of them are scorers, and not just catch-and-shoot scorers, they have four or five guys that can create offense off the dribble. You don’t see a lot of teams built that way, that’s what makes it so difficult."

  • Defending the 3's, forcing long 2's: The Celtics pride themselves on their 3-point defense and it will be tested versus Denver, which is fifth in the league making 38.5 percent of their trifectas while hoisting 21.2 triples per game. The Celtics want to make them settle for the mid-range jumper. “We defend the three. Our whole thing is no 3's and no paint, so basically you're left with contested 2’s. Earlier in the year, we were getting that, but we weren’t contesting the 2's, we were giving them their shots. Now I think our guys have focused on getting a hand in the guys face when they are shooting, since it may affect them."