Celtics-Spurs Preview

A once comfortable lead atop the Western Conference has shrunk

dramatically in the past 10 days for the injury-riddled San Antonio

Spurs.

The Boston Celtics’ lead in the East is long gone and they’re

not playing as if they can get it back.

One of these stumbling title contenders will get a much-needed

boost Thursday night, when the Spurs looks to avoid their worst

losing streak in nearly 14 years and a fifth straight home loss to

the Celtics.

San Antonio (57-17) still leads the West but is struggling to

hold off the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas. The Spurs had a

seven-game lead over Los Angeles on March 21, but that margin has

been cut in half because they’ve lost a season-high four in a

row.

Tim Duncan has missed all four of the losses with a sprained

ankle and the Spurs’ injury woes worsened earlier this week. They

were without Tony Parker (left knee contusion), Manu Ginobili

(bruised thigh) and Antonio McDyess (back) in a 100-92 loss to

Portland on Monday.

“It’s life. You have to deal with it and figure out how to get

better,” said George Hill, who had a team-high 27 points. “No one’s

hanging their head or thinking we’re not as good as we’ve been all

year.”

Parker is considered the most likely of the Spurs’ injured

players to return Thursday, though McDyess also has a chance to

play. Ginobili, injured in Sunday’s loss at Memphis, said he was

feeling “much better” on Monday, but his status and Duncan’s are

unknown.

The Spurs are at risk of losing five consecutive games for the

first time since dropping their final six of the 1996-97

season.

Monday marked only their fourth loss in 37 home games this

season, but the Celtics (51-22) have won their last four visits to

San Antonio. The only other team not to have lost at least once in

its last two regular-season games there is Utah.

When the Spurs lost 105-103 in Boston on Jan. 5, the teams had

the two best records in the NBA. While San Antonio has maintained

the league’s top record despite its struggles, Boston has only the

fifth-best mark and has fallen behind Chicago for the East

lead.

The Celtics have lost three of four and seven of 12, including a

107-100 defeat at Indiana on Monday. Boston gave up 42 points in

the paint and failed to outrebound the opposition for a fourth

consecutive game as it continues to play without injured big men

Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal.

Rajon Rondo did play after missing Sunday’s game against

Minnesota with a jammed finger on his right hand, finishing with 22

points and eight assists. He had averaged 5.8 points on 29.2

percent shooting in his previous eight games.

With depth a concern for Boston, fatigue could be an issue. They

were outscored 26-15 in the fourth quarter Monday and by an average

of 26.3 to 15.7 in their last three losses.

“We became a great team because we were known to do it for 48

minutes,” Kevin Garnett said. “We seem to be missing that right

now.”

Garnett did not play against the Spurs in January, but Boston

shot 61.3 percent. Ray Allen scored 31 points while Rondo had 22

assists, 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Celtics have won six of the last eight meetings.