Suns-Celtics Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 19, 2012
The Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns each ended a five-game losing streak in their last contest. One of these aging teams is guaranteed to make it two in a row Friday night when the NBA's assist leaders meet as Rajon Rondo and the Celtics host Steve Nash and the Suns. These perennial contenders have fallen on hard times, enduring uncharacteristically long skids heading into play Wednesday. They ended them by taking advantage of similarly struggling teams. Boston (5-8) got 21 points from Rondo in a 96-73 win over Toronto for its first win since Jan. 4. "This is our second-longest winning streak this year," Rondo said. "It's a positive vibe right now in our locker room." Phoenix (5-9), meanwhile, won for the first time since Jan. 8 with a 91-88 victory at New York. Nash had 26 points and 11 assists against his former coach, Mike D'Antoni, and the Knicks. "Right now, we could have beat anybody and it'd be sweet," Nash said. "It's been a tough year, we've had a tough stretch, so for us, any win is a huge relief and hopefully will give us some confidence and maybe get us going a little bit." Nash leads the league with 10.1 assists per game with Rondo second at 9.4. Rondo left Wednesday's game late in the third quarter with a right wrist injury after a flagrant foul by Linas Kleiza. X-rays showed no break and Rondo said he wanted to return, but the Celtics didn't risk it. "My wrist was throbbing," Rondo said. "It's day to day." Rondo was held to a season-low two assists but made 7 of 8 shots to lead Boston in scoring for the third time this season. "His assists are going to happen because he's a great passer," coach Doc Rivers said of Rondo. "Tonight was just one of those nights. He was basically just scoring and wasn't getting assists. But it was good for the team." The 37-year-old Nash has been excellent, averaging 15.1 points and shooting 55.2 percent. "You can see, you watch Steve play, I don't see where he's missed the beat," coach Alvin Gentry said. "I think he's playing as well as he did when he was MVP of the league. He's the guy that we count on to do almost everything for us offensively." Nash and the 39-year-old Grant Hill are the elder statesmen of the Phoenix lineup. The 25-year-old Rondo is the only Celtics starter under 33. The age has been a factor on offense. The Celtics average 90.2 points for one of the NBA's lowest marks while the Suns are in the middle of the pack at 93.9 after being in the top five in each of the previous seven seasons since Nash rejoined the club. "I can't put my finger on the fact that we're struggling to get to 100 every game," Gentry said. "I thought that would be one of the areas where we'd have the least worries and it's become just the opposite." These clubs split two meetings last season. Boston's Kevin Garnett averaged 23.0 points on 70.4 percent shooting and 10.0 boards while Phoenix's Marcin Gortat averaged 16.0 and 15.0.
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