The Atlanta Hawks were able to keep winning despite resting some starters in their last two games against lesser competition.
Matching their longest winning streak in the last 17 seasons figures to be much more difficult with Friday night’s road meeting against a Toronto Raptors team that has one of its best players back in the mix.
Atlanta (31-8) tops the Eastern Conference with Atlantic Division-leading Toronto 4 1/2 games back in third place. The Hawks are 1 1/2 behind Golden State for the league’s best record and are an NBA-best 24-2 since Nov. 28 thanks to 10 straight victories, their most since winning their first 11 in 1997-98.
The franchise record is a 14-game streak Nov. 16-Dec. 14, 1993, and they’ve also won a franchise-record 10 straight on the road. Atlanta is 14-1 away from home after starting 1-4.
"It’s just the start. It’s a long season, so we’re not too excited," said Jeff Teague, who leads the team with 17.5 points and 7.2 assists per game.
Teague has averaged 20.9 points on 51.7 percent shooting during the winning streak, scoring 22 in Wednesday’s 105-91 victory at Boston. He ranks seventh among guards with 8.3 points in the paint per game.
"I know this: Nobody in the league can keep Teague in front of them. Nobody," Celtics coach Brad Steven told the team’s official website.
Al Horford and Kyle Korver didn’t play after coach Mike Budenholzer gave fellow starters Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll the night off in Tuesday’s 105-87 win at Philadelphia.
"I don’t like it, but it’s coach’s call and it paid off for us,” Millsap said. "He might know what he’s doing."
The Raptors (26-12) have won twice in their last seven games but could put together a run with DeMar DeRozan back from a 21-game absence due to a torn tendon in his groin.
DeRozan scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 100-84 home win over the 76ers. He was 9 of 14 in 29 minutes as Toronto improved to 14-3 with him in the lineup.
"It’s been tough sitting out this many games, just watching," DeRozan said. "It felt good to get back out there."
With DeRozan out, Toronto relied on Kyle Lowry, who scored 24-plus eight times in DeRozan’s absence compared to two such performances while playing alongside him.
Lowry was 6 of 15 (40.0 percent) with 18 points Wednesday. The team went 3-7 when he shot 40.0 percent or worse with DeRozan out.
The Raptors have won three straight in the series with DeRozan scoring 27 in a 126-115 road victory Nov. 26. DeRozan was 4 of 16 and had 15 points in Toronto’s 109-102 home win Oct. 29. He has averaged 24.2 points on 50.0 percent shooting in his last 11 meetings, going 14 of 27 from 3-point range.
Lowry totaled 25 points on 6-of-23 shooting in the first two meetings.
Atlanta is 74 of 158 (46.8) from beyond the arc over its last six games, while the Raptors have held their last four opponents to 27.0 percent 3-point shooting. The Hawks were 23 of 46 in the first two matchups.
Toronto, which has committed 17-plus turnovers four times in its last six games, will have to take better care of the ball against the Hawks, who have forced 17-plus eight times in their last 10.