Celtics-Cavaliers Preview

The Boston Celtics continue to slide – and with it, their

chances of improving their playoff seeding in the Eastern

Conference.

Struggling to adjust in the wake of a significant injury, Boston

on Wednesday night visits a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is

dealing with its own injury problems and is also mired in a

five-game losing streak.

The Celtics (36-34) are only a little more than two weeks

removed from a five-game winning streak, but have since gone 2-7

and are a defeat away from matching a season-worst six-game skid

from Jan. 16-25. They were in a three-way tie for fifth place in

the East on March 16, but are now in seventh, 2 1/2 games back of

sixth-place Atlanta.

Tuesday’s 100-85 home loss to the Knicks marked their second

straight game without Kevin Garnett, who is out with inflammation

in his left ankle and a return date is uncertain. Courtney Lee also

missed his second game in a row because of a sprained left ankle,

with Jordan Crawford starting and scoring 14 points.

Although Garnett is the team’s leading rebounder (7.8 rpg) and

second-leading scorer (14.9 ppg), coach Doc Rivers doesn’t buy his

absence as much of an excuse.

“Kevin’s not playing. I don’t worry about it,” Rivers said.

“Overall, we were pretty bad. Kevin had nothing to do with

that.”

Playing without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have struggled with

turnovers, committing an average of 16.8 per game during their skid

compared to opponents’ 13.2. That could be trouble even against the

Cavaliers (22-47), who have the league’s third-fewest wins but are

averaging a league-low 12.9 turnovers since New Year’s Day.

Cleveland is also forcing an average of 16.6 turnovers in its last

five games.

Boston coughed up 20 turnovers Tuesday leading to 17 points for

the Knicks.

“We’ve got to get back to playing with more energy, forcing a

lot of turnovers like we were three or four weeks ago,” said Paul

Pierce, averaging 20.4 points on 53.0 percent shooting over his

last 14 games. “Turning the ball over less if we’re going to give

ourselves a chance.”

After blowing a 27-point lead to Miami last Wednesday, things

got even worse for the Cavaliers in a 116-78 loss to Houston on

Friday – their largest margin of defeat this season.

“As I told our guys, it was the first game in a long time that I

saw us being very disconnected on both ends of the floor,” coach

Byron Scott said.

Cleveland is being outrebounded by an average of 9.4 during its

slide while letting opponents average 108.0 points on 50.6 percent

shooting. Friday marked the ninth time in 11 games the Cavaliers

were held to less than 100 points.

Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Dion Waiters (knee) have both been

ruled out. Irving, who has missed six straight, may miss the rest

of the season, while Waiters is expected to be re-evaluated this

week, but he’s out indefinitely after missing the last two

contests.

For the Celtics, Jeff Green continues to play well since making

his first start of the season on Feb. 22, averaging 15.9 points in

16 games.

The teams split two earlier meetings this season, with Pierce

notching a season-high 40 points on 13-of-16 shooting in a 103-91

win on Dec. 19. But he struggled in a 95-90 loss in Cleveland on

Jan. 22, going 3 of 15 for 12 points with four turnovers. Irving

had 40 points in that game.