Celtics-Timberwolves Preview

With the Boston Celtics struggling and Kevin Garnett still

sidelined, the team’s opportunity to improve its playoff seeding is

fading.

But on Monday night in Minnesota, they’ll try to take advantage

of a Timberwolves team they’ve won 11 straight against. Ten of

those victories have come since Garnett was traded to Boston in the

summer of 2007.

The Celtics (38-35) have lost six of eight overall and six of

seven on the road following a 108-89 defeat against the Knicks on

Sunday. They remain in seventh in the East, 2 1/2 games back of

Atlanta and 2 1/2 in front of Milwaukee.

Sunday was their fifth straight game without Garnett, who has

been sidelined with inflammation in his left ankle. Coach Doc

Rivers said Friday that the team was intending to stick to its

initial two-week timetable for Garnett’s return, which would likely

see him miss two more games this week against Detroit and Cleveland

in addition to Monday’s contest.

The absence of Garnett – Boston’s leading rebounder with 7.8 per

game – has had an effect on the boards, with the Celtics giving up

an average rebounding margin of minus-4.8 over the last five.

Garnett is also the club’s second-leading scorer averaging 14.9

points.

Boston could also be without leading scorer Paul Pierce (18.7

ppg) on Monday after he turned his ankle during Sunday’s loss.

“I feel like when we’re healthy we can compete with anybody,”

said Jeff Green, who scored 27 against the Knicks and is averaging

20.2 points on 52.5 percent shooting over his last 10 contests. “We

have a chance on it, whoever we match up against.”

Despite being long removed from the playoff hunt, the

Timberwolves (26-46) have been more competitive recently, splitting

their last six games, including an impressive victory over Oklahoma

City on Friday.

It seemed they were on track for another surprising win Saturday

against Memphis, but they allowed a 16-2 run at the beginning of

the fourth quarter on the way to a 99-86 defeat.

“I just think at one point we looked like we were trying to win

the game in one possession,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Trying to

making hero plays and super plays. Just try to make solid

plays.”

Nikola Pekovic is listed as questionable after sitting out

against the Grizzlies because of the sprained left ankle he

suffered Friday, the latest in a litany of injuries for Minnesota

this year.

The Timberwolves have seen a positive with Ricky Rubio

continuing to look more like he did before tearing his ACL last

March. He’s averaging 13.8 points and 8.6 assists over his last 28

games, compared to 5.5 points and 5.4 assists in his first 19 games

back from the injury.

Boston’s offense has slowed to a crawl away from home, averaging

88.7 points over its last seven road games. The Celtics have also

struggled to defend the 3-point line of late, allowing their last

three opponents to go 29 of 64 from beyond the arc (45.3 percent),

though the Timberwolves rank last in 3-point percentage (30.0).

The Celtics claimed a 104-94 home victory in the season’s first

meeting Dec. 5. Pierce and Garnett each scored 18 points as Boston

shot 52.6 percent from the floor, though Rubio was still sidelined

for Minnesota.