Rockets-Celtics Preview

While trade rumors surrounding Rajon Rondo haven’t gone away,

the Boston Celtics likely aren’t too eager to deal their All-Star

point guard following his latest effort.

The host Celtics look to match their longest winning streak of

the season Tuesday night against the scuffling Houston Rockets, who

have surprisingly thrived in Boston of late.

After dropping five straight Feb. 15-22, the Celtics (19-17)

have since turned a corner. Scoring just 90.9 points per game this

season, Boston has averaged 102.5 in winning four in a row.

Leading the Eastern Conference with 10.2 assists per contest,

Rondo has done it all over that stretch. Five days after recording

15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists during a 102-96 win over

Milwaukee, Rondo had 18, a career-high 17 and 20, respectively,

during Sunday’s 115-111 overtime win over New York.

“I know we’re all in this together, but it’s great when he takes

over like that,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s the smartest point

guard I’ve ever been around. He’s a brilliant player like

that.”

Rondo became the first player to record a triple-double with at

least 17 in each category since Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who

had 24 points, 17 assists and 17 rebounds on April 18, 1989.

The Celtics have climbed into seventh place in the East during

their winning streak and now lead the eighth-place Knicks by 1 1/2

games.

“It was a big win for us,” Rondo said. “We’re trying to get a

little separation.”

Paul Pierce also came up big Sunday, matching a season-high with

34 points – including a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left in

regulation.

Rondo and Pierce were, in contrast, limited to a combined 14

points on 4-of-21 shooting during a 93-77 loss at Houston (21-17)

last March 18. The Celtics have dropped three straight in this

series overall and eight of 10 versus the Rockets at home.

Boston, however, has won eight of 10 at TD Garden and could be

facing Houston at just the right time. The Rockets suffered their

third consecutive defeat Sunday, falling 105-103 to the Los Angeles

Clippers in overtime.

“We had some opportunities, we just didn’t take advantage,” said

Rockets coach and former Celtics star Kevin McHale, who won three

NBA championships with Boston.

“When you have a (good) team like that on the ropes, you just

can’t have any mistakes and we gave away a couple down the stretch

and it hurt us.”

There were 20 ties and 24 lead changes Sunday, but the Rockets

were outrebounded for the 10th consecutive game and ultimately came

up short. Houston has been outrebounded by an average of 12.0

boards during its skid.

“Both teams were playing well,” said Kevin Martin, who missed

what would have been the game-winning 3 with one second left in OT.

“I think that’s why it hurts the most. We have been harping over

coming out and setting a tone, effort-wise. We did everything

right, except for one thing.”

Martin, who had a season-high 35 points Friday during a 117-105

loss to Denver, finished with 25 on 6-of-22 from the field.

Houston, which opens a five-game road trip Tuesday, has been

outscored by 13.3 points per contest in losing three straight in

opposing arenas.