Celtics running on full

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 14, 2010

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It’s strange, to say the least.

For the first time in 14 seasons, three NBA teams — the Celtics, the Spurs, and the Mavericks — have rung up double-digit winning streaks before Christmas.

The Celtics’ (10 games) and Mavericks’ (12 games) streaks are still alive, the Heat are on a nine-game run, and the Knicks have an eight-game tear. But the way the schedule breaks, several of the streaks will be over before the week is out.

The Celtics rang up their 10th in a row Saturday night against the Bobcats (93-62). The streak is in line with the 11 straight they put together early last season, although it looks bite-sized compared with the franchise-record 19 straight they won in 2008-09.

Despite stringing so many wins together, with everything they’ve dealt with (Delonte West’s 10-game suspension, injuries to Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal, the ailing feet of Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson, the wrist West broke five games after coming back from suspension), the Celtics couldn’t be more oblivious to it.

They’re on a winning streak, but they’ve also been in survival mode.

“We have no conscience of what the streak is,’’ forward Kevin Garnett said. “We talk from game to game about what we need to do to prepare for that game, and that’s it. We don’t look past teams, we don’t circle teams. We’ve got one game at a time.’’

Each streak has been unique. Miami’s beaten all nine teams by double digits, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both averaging more than 25 points per game since a now-infamous team meeting following a stretch in which they lost four of five. The Mavericks have averaged more than 100 points a night. The Spurs won six of their 12 games in other teams’ arenas.

The Celtics’ streak originated after an embarrassing loss in Toronto, after which they spent the entire plane ride seething over defensive lapses that gave the game to the Raptors.

Since then, they’ve held teams to 86.1 points a night and 41.2 percent shooting, outscoring them by an average of 14.6 points, clamping down so hard on defense that they’ve won even when Paul Pierce has been sick and struggling, the offense has been ice cold, and they have had no choice but to start Turkish rookie Semih Erden at center with both O’Neals out.

“It’s hard to explain it, but this team is on one accord,’’ Pierce said. “We’re feeling good right now. We feel like we can beat anybody regardless of who we put out there. We’re in a great rhythm right now as a team.’’

Streaks will collide tomorrow night when the 19-4 Celtics meet the 16-9 Knicks at Madison Square Garden. New York’s Amar’e Stoudemire is making himself look like the prize of last summer’s free agency.

Stoudemire has been historically hot during the Knicks’ streak, setting a team record with eight straight games with at least 30 points, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers has been too busy to notice.

“That’s news to me,’’ Rivers said. “That’s impressive, but I didn’t know that.’’

The huge numbers popped up on Pierce’s radar, though. There was some buzz in the Celtics’ preseason meeting with the Knicks, when Pierce hit the game-clincher then acted out a home run trot around the court to signal the “walkoff.’’ Pierce expects tomorrow night’s game to have added electricity.

“They’re one of the hottest teams in the NBA; they’re going to be a tough challenge,’’ he said. “When you get a team that gets on the road, who plays confident, it’s tough to stop them. So this is going to be one of our biggest games.’’

The Knicks beat the Nuggets Sunday with Carmelo Anthony — a win that means more because of the speculation about Anthony wanting to be traded to New York either this season or the next — and after Boston they host Miami.

Pierce is aware that the Knicks can use wins in those games as résumé-builders.

“This is a game that could really put their season on a whole other level than it already is,’’ he said. “So we’ve got to be aware of the energy they’re going to bring. The building’s going to really be electric, nationally televised game, but we’ve been in that position before.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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