NBA Basketball

Celtics ready for Nets, aim for 6th straight win

After a lull dimmed some of the satisfaction from their outstanding start, it appears the Boston Celtics have regained their footing, especially defensively.

Boston seeks its sixth straight win Saturday when it visits the Brooklyn Nets.

The Celtics began this season with 22 wins in their first 26 games by holding teams to 96.8 points and 43.8 percent shooting. Boston then dropped six of its next 11 and allowed 101.6 points in those games.

Since allowing the Washington Wizards to shoot 46.2 percent in a 111-103 Christmas Day loss, the Celtics are allowing 93.2 points on 37.5 percent shooting during their second-longest winning streak of the season.

"We're just being a more physical team, bringing the fight to other teams and making it more difficult," Boston guard Kyrie Irving told reporters.

After holding the Cleveland Cavaliers to 34.8 percent from the field in a 102-88 win on Wednesday, the Celtics (32-10) held the Minnesota Timberwolves to 36.8 percent shooting (28-of-76) in a 91-84 win on Friday. It was the fourth time in this streak that the Celtics held an opponent under 40 percent.

"I think our defensive intensity and focus was great all night," Boston coach Brad Stevens told reporters.

The effective defense is occurring at a time when Boston's offense is inconsistent. The Celtics are averaging 100.4 points and shooting 45.2 percent in the last five games after hitting 40.4 percent of their shots and matching their fourth-lowest point total of the season Friday.

The Celtics compensated for a season-low 16.7 percent (6 of 36) shooting from 3-point range by tying a season best with 16 offensive boards.

Marcus Smart led the Celtics with 18 points while Irving contributed 16. It was the first time this season Irving was held under 20 points in consecutive games and he is shooting 26.8 percent (11 of 41) in his last two games.

The Nets (15-23) are looking to match a season high with their third straight win after getting a 98-95 win over Orlando Monday and a 98-97 win over Minnesota Wednesday. Brooklyn has won three of its last four games and might have been seeking a fifth straight win if it completed a comeback Sunday in Boston before falling short in a 108-105 loss.

The Nets have allowed less than 100 points 10 times this season and are unbeaten when doing so. It matches the figure from last season when Brooklyn endured a 1-27 stretch and went 20-62.

Brooklyn also held Minnesota to .091 percent (1 of 11) from 3-point range. In the last four games, opponents are shooting 23.8 percent (24 of 101) from long range.

"We did all the little things and that's what we're searching for," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. "I said it the other night, more consistency defensively, so to do it again tonight when we're definitely not cliquing offensively, I thought it was a good job by our guys."

On Wednesday, Spencer Dinwiddie continued to play well at point guard by hitting the game-winning fadeaway with 9.7 seconds left and scoring 26 points. Dinwiddie has eight 20-point games and is averaging 14.3 points as a starting point guard in place of D'Angelo Russell (knee surgery).

Dinwiddie's shot gave the Nets a third straight home win after it dropped nine of its previous 12 as the home team. (They split two games in Mexico City).

Wednesday also marked the home debut of center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor played 11 minutes after spending nearly a month getting ready to get regular minutes following his acquisition from Philadelphia. Okafor's minutes will likely increase on a gradual basis as Wednesday was only his fourth appearance this season.

"Get my minutes up, that's the next step for me," Okafor said. "To have more of an effect on the game and the things that the coaches want me to improve on and implement that with what I do well."

The Nets played without Caris LeVert (left groin strain) and the backup point guard is doubtful for Saturday. Forward DeMarre Carroll also may miss the game as he is questionable with a sore rib.

The Celtics have won the last seven meetings. On Nov. 14, Irving scored 25 points in a 109-102 win at Brooklyn and Sunday he had 28 when the Celtics took a 14-point first-half lead before holding on.

Updated January 6, 2018

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