Feeling the heat before break

Celtics would like to finish strong

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 12, 2011

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By no means did this recent stretch seem like it would be this turbulent. The teams on the schedule gave the Celtics reason to believe their last leg of games before the All-Star break would be difficult, but it also seemed manageable, especially with the Green coming off a strong West Coast trip.

But defensive lapses, struggles in back-to-back games, and injuries — their ever-present problem — have bitten the Celtics in the past week. Marquis Daniels’s bruised spinal cord has left the Celtics thin at small forward behind Paul Pierce, and they were already shorthanded without big men Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Semih Erden. And guard Nate Robinson left Thursday night’s 92-86 loss to the Lakers with a bruised right knee.

They’ve lost three of four, and with the Heat coming to the Garden tomorrow and a matchup with the Nets Wednesday, the Celtics are trying not to stumble into the break.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,’’ said Pierce. “The guys that are out there have to be ready, be able to contribute, not make excuses, and just go out there and win these games.’’

There’s no team hotter than Miami. Since the last time the teams played, a 112-107 Celtics win in Miami Nov. 11, the Heat have gone on three tears, ripping off 12, nine, and their current eight straight wins, which has them a half-game ahead of the Celtics for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. This month alone, LeBron James has scored 51 points on the road against Orlando and 41 points at home against Indiana, making a case for a third straight MVP award.

The Celtics beat Miami twice in the first two weeks of the season, but the Heat clearly aren’t the same team they were three months ago. Because of injuries, the Celtics can’t say they’re the same team they were just two weeks ago. At the time, they had beaten the Lakers convincingly in Los Angeles, the signature win of a 3-1 Western Conference swing.

But with the Celtics shorthanded Thursday against the Lakers, Kobe Bryant feasted when Ray Allen got into foul trouble, the Lakers dominated the glass, and Boston absorbed a tough loss at home.

The frustrating part was that it was a winnable game. The Celtics led by 15 points on three occasions in the second quarter.

“We know we can win on our home court with the players that we’ve got,’’ Pierce said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got four All-Stars that you’re putting on the court every night. We’re not hurt. We’re more than capable of winning these types of games.’’

Outside of Kevin Garnett, however, those All-Stars are seeing extensive minutes. Pierce has played 40-plus in three of five games this month; Rajon Rondo has played 43-plus the last two games; and Allen logged 40 last Sunday against Orlando and 39 the next night against Charlotte.

Doc Rivers will have the honor of coaching those four at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles Feb. 20, but until they get there, he has to piece lineups together with players missing.

“I don’t worry about that stuff,’’ he said after Thursday night’s loss. “What am I supposed to do? They’re not here, so the fact is it doesn’t matter to us tonight. We had what we had. Whether it would’ve made a difference or not, I don’t know the answer. But we had enough bodies to rebound tonight, we just didn’t do it the way we wanted to.’’

Rivers’s options for big men are slim. He considered playing Luke Harangody against the Lakers, but knew length would be an issue.

“I just thought the size, as good as rebounder as Luke is, you’re playing a very long basketball team,’’ said Rivers, who played rookie Avery Bradley briefly against the Lakers. “If it came to an issue where rebounds were on the floor that you could’ve gotten to, then Luke would’ve been great. But the rebounds were above the rim, and whenever you play the Lakers the rebounds are above the rim because of their length, and that was a factor.’’

Rivers said he wanted to wait to play Delonte West against the Nets, but with Robinson ailing, West might play against Miami, if only for a few minutes.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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