Celtics-Thunder Preview

When the NBA’s condensed schedule was released, one spot for the

Oklahoma City Thunder to circle seemed to be a back-to-back home

stretch against the league’s premier historical powerhouses.

Given the current state of the Boston Celtics, the Thunder’s

biggest obstacle might be looking ahead.

The Thunder go for their 11th consecutive home win Wednesday

night against the scuffling Celtics, who won’t have Rajon Rondo and

may not have Kevin Garnett as they try to avoid heading into the

All-Star break with a fifth straight loss.

Oklahoma City (25-7) will play twice more before the break,

capping a five-game homestand with visits from the Celtics and

Lakers, a pair of franchises that have had their shares of ups and

downs in the first half.

But while Los Angeles still has the look of a potential threat

to the Thunder in the Western Conference, Boston is clinging to a

playoff spot in the East. The Celtics (15-16) have dropped six of

seven and four straight by an average of 12.5 points, with Monday’s

89-73 loss in Dallas their most lopsided since the opening week of

the season.

Boston didn’t have Garnett (personal reasons) for the second

straight game, Rondo (suspension) or Brandon Bass (knee). To make

matters worse, the Celtics lost starters Jermaine O’Neal (sprained

left wrist) and Chris Wilcox (right adductor strain) in the third

quarter.

“We’ve got to get our guys back. At one point, I had five guards

out there. We were just trying to mess up the game,” coach Doc

Rivers said. “I’m scared to talk to the medical staff because they

don’t give me good news. We’ve got to hold the fort until we get

bodies back.”

Rondo on Wednesday will finish serving his two-game suspension

for throwing the ball at an official. It’s unclear if Garnett,

Bass, O’Neal or Wilcox will return.

With that list of injuries and the Lakers on tap for Thursday’s

first-half finale, it could be easy for Oklahoma City to overlook

Boston. The Thunder already own a victory at TD Garden, winning

97-88 on Jan. 16 behind 28 points from Kevin Durant and 26 from

Russell Westbrook to extend another Celtics skid to five.

That was the fifth straight victory in this series by the road

team, however. The Thunder have lost all three games in Oklahoma

City against the Celtics, while Durant is a personal 0-4 at home

versus Boston dating back to the franchise’s days in Seattle.

If the Thunder play anything like they did early in Monday’s

game against New Orleans, they should break that drought with ease.

After Sunday’s thrilling 124-118 overtime victory against Denver,

Oklahoma City built a 26-point lead Monday before hanging on to win

101-93.

“We brought the energy from the beginning,” Durant said after

the franchise won 10 in a row at home for the first time since a

12-game run Feb. 22-April 2, 1998, in Seattle. “… We had a few

slip-ups in the third and obviously in the fourth but I think we

did a good job overall of playing hard.”

The Thunder also had to overcome a few injuries. Key reserves

James Harden (sprained left ankle) and Nick Collison (left quad

contusion) sat out, but neither is believed to be seriously hurt

and both could play Wednesday.

“You’re going to have injuries,” Westbrook said. “You’ve just

got to make sure you’re ready to take the opportunity and be ready

to play.”

The Thunder are 17-0 when they allow 95 points or fewer, and

that’s bad news for Boston. The Celtics haven’t surpassed that mark

in nine games, averaging 84.0 points in that stretch.