Nets Face Conference-Leading Celtics
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(AP) — It appears that the injury scare surrounding Boston star Paul Pierce was nothing more than a scare. With Pierce on the court, the New Jersey Nets are unlikely to strike much fear in the hearts of the Celtics.
Pierce is expected to play Wednesday when the Celtics look to continue their dominance of the visiting Nets in the final game before the All-Star break for both clubs.
Boston (39-14) took command of the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference on Sunday with an 85-82 victory over Miami. While the Celtics own a slim lead over the Heat in the standings, they’ve clinched the tiebreaker by winning all three meetings with Miami in the season series.
“They’re going to be a different team in March and April, the more important months, when we’ll probably have to see them again,” Pierce said. “It gives us the series in case something happens with a tiebreaker.”
Pierce nearly put a major damper on a big win. Bothered by hand and foot ailments, the perennial All-Star missed all 10 of his field-goal attempts and finished with one point. It was the second time in his career that Pierce shot 0 for 10 or worse, and the first time since he was 0 for 11 from the floor and had two points in a loss at Cleveland on March 2, 1999 – the 13th game of his NBA career.
Pierce announced after the game he would be getting an MRI on his left foot Monday, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers had good news after that day’s practice.
“It’s OK. Everything’s good,” Rivers told the team’s official website. “I think there’s some bruising, obviously, swelling, but everything he can play with, and that was very good.”
With that, the Nets (17-39) likely saw their best chance for a win disappear. The Celtics have taken 14 of 15 meetings with New Jersey since March 3, 2007. The lone loss, a 104-96 home defeat last Feb. 27, occurred with Pierce sidelined due to a sore right thumb.
In a rare scheduling quirk, New Jersey is playing the second of three straight games versus conference leaders, stretched over 12 days. The Nets lost 102-85 at home to NBA-best San Antonio on Monday. Following this contest and the All-Star break, they won’t take the floor again until visiting the Spurs on Feb. 25.
The Nets have dropped two straight, both at home. Following a 105-95 loss to New York on Saturday, they never seriously challenged San Antonio. Brook Lopez and Travis Outlaw tied for the team lead with 11 points apiece.
Rookie forward Damion James, who has missed 33 games due to a broken right foot, participated fully in practice Tuesday and has a chance to return for the Nets on Wednesday.
“Whatever decision coach makes, I’m going to be satisfied with either one,” James, averaging 3.1 points in 17 games, told the Nets’ official website. “The Lord knows I want to be out there playing, but at the same time, coach doesn’t want to put me out there playing if I ain’t ready. But I think we’ve got a good feeling I’m ready.”
Updated February 15, 2011
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