GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)
The Boston Celtics secured their only win streak since late December by beating the slumping Denver Nuggets last month.
The Celtics have a chance to clinch back-to-back victories again if they can send the visiting Nuggets to another loss in Wednesday night's rematch.
Boston (17-30) has won consecutive games just once since Dec. 20, a pair of road wins Jan. 22-23. The Celtics edged Denver 100-99 for the second victory with Avery Bradley hitting a pair of key shots in the final 84 seconds.
Bradley, playing with a fractured thumb on his non-shooting left hand, had a team-best 18 points in that game and scored 26 in a 108-97 win over New York on Tuesday that snapped a three-game skid.
Leading scorer Jared Sullinger broke out of a shooting slump, scoring 22 after totaling 15 points on 7-of-25 shooting in the previous two contests.
The Celtics scored 14 of the game's first 16 points and also seemed to benefit from a lineup change, pairing rookie Marcus Smart with Bradley in the backcourt. Smart, making his first start since Dec. 27, hit a pair of 3-pointers during the quick start before finishing with 13 points on 3-for-9 shooting.
"We came with energy right out of the gate," said Smart, who totaled seven points on 2-of-12 shooting in his previous two games. "That's what we've been lacking."
Denver (19-30) has also been lacking fast starts, trailing by an average of 12.0 points after one quarter during its three-game skid.
The Nuggets lost for the 10th time in 11 games with Tuesday's 105-98 setback in Philadelphia. Denver is shooting 36.0 percent during its losing streak -- including 23.5 percent from 3-point range. The Nuggets also let the 76ers score their most points since Dec. 13.
"Our defense was nonexistent," coach Brian Shaw said. "When you're not hitting shots, you have to defend. And when you're not doing both, you don't have a chance."
Leading scorer Ty Lawson (16.3 ppg) had five points Tuesday and is averaging 7.3 points on 25.7 percent shooting in his last four games. Lawson totaled 50 points in his first two games after sitting against Boston on Jan. 23 following an arrest for an alleged DUI.
The Nuggets have also dealt with illnesses lately, and JaVale McGee didn't play in the opener to a three-game trip because of the flu. Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur returned after sitting out a 104-86 loss to Charlotte on Saturday.
The Nuggets, losers in 12 of 15 on the road, have lost four straight and 20 of 23 in Boston since 1990-91.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH (via Chris Forsberg)
• Early energy: The Celtics and their tweaked starting lineup came out red hot in Tuesday's win against the Knicks. Can they keep up the early intensity? Boston looks like a different team when it has confidence out of the gates and isn't forced to play from behind from the jump.
• Can Bradley/Sullinger keep it up? Avery Bradley couldn't miss from the mid-range and Jared Sullinger seemed content to bully the Knicks down low on Tuesday. How does Boston react if Bradley's shots aren't falling or if Sullinger starts drifting toward the perimeter where he's struggled recently?
• Small ball in in focus: The Celtics found success running small-ball lineups with Jae Crowder at power forward throughout Tuesday's win. It helped keep the rotation tighter than usual and Boston leaned heavy on its starting 5 and Crowder. Can Boston stay small more often and can Crowder get a spark from the reserve role.