Nuggets-Celtics Preview

The Boston Celtics may own a losing record, but first-year coach

Brad Stevens has guided them into first place in the Atlantic

Division.

The Denver Nuggets aren’t nearly as fortunate.

The Celtics will try to continue their recent surge by

continuing their historical home dominance of the Nuggets on Friday

night.

Only Indiana and Miami are above .500 in the Eastern Conference,

while Boston (8-12) has played well enough to top the Atlantic.

The Celtics’ rise has come on a 4-2 stretch, during which

they’re averaging 96.5 points – 2.7 more than their season

mark.

“We’re 8-12. It’s not like we’re lighting the world on fire,”

said Stevens, who was hired to mold a young roster after Boston

traded Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn over

the summer.

The Celtics turned in one of their better performances Tuesday,

shooting 49.4 percent from the floor while matching their season

high with 11 3-pointers in a 108-100 win over Milwaukee to split a

home-and-home series with the Bucks.

Jordan Crawford totaled 43 points in the two games, but spurred

the latest victory by scoring 15 of his season-high 25 points in

the fourth quarter.

“We’ve just got to learn to stay focused and pull out these wins

– grind them out,” said Crawford, who was 5 for 5 from the field in

the fourth, including three 3-pointers.

While Boston is unceremoniously leading the Atlantic, Denver

(11-7) is third in the Northwest.

The Nuggets are trying to get back on track after falling 98-88

at Cleveland on Wednesday, ending their season-high seven-game

winning streak. They matched a season low in points while shooting

39.1 percent from the field – 6 for 23 from long range.

That performance was in stark contrast to Denver’s 50.6-percent

shooting effort in a 111-87 victory at Brooklyn a day earlier.

“Every team plays back-to-back. It’s not impossible to win the

second game in a back-to-back,” J.J. Hickson told the team’s

official website. “One of the things coach (Brian Shaw) has said

all season is that we’re going to be a no-excuse team. We’re not

going to make any excuses.

“We just have to get back to the drawing board.”

An improved performance from Ty Lawson would surely help.

The guard leads the team with averages of 19.3 points and 8.2

assists, but he had a season-low four points while missing 12 of 13

from the field against the Cavaliers.

“I feel like I missed all easy shots,” said Lawson, who had 11

assists. “I ain’t never shot 1 for 13 before in my life.”

He’s hit 21 of 35 from the field – 5 of 11 from 3-point range –

while totaling 55 points and 15 assists over the last two meetings

with the Celtics. That includes 29 points, nine assists and six

rebounds in a 118-114, triple-overtime loss at Boston on Feb.

10.

The Celtics are 32-7 all-time at home against the Nuggets,

winning the last three while averaging 112.0 points.