Game Preview: Nuggets at Celtics
The Boston Celtics may own a losing record, but first-year coach Brad Stevens has guided them into first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Denver Nuggets aren't nearly as fortunate.
The Celtics will try to continue their recent surge by continuing their historical home dominance of the Nuggets on Friday night.
Only Indiana and Miami are above .500 in the Eastern Conference, while Boston (8-12) has played well enough to top the Atlantic.
The Celtics' rise has come on a 4-2 stretch, during which they're averaging 96.5 points - 2.7 more than their season mark.
"We're 8-12. It's not like we're lighting the world on fire," said Stevens, who was hired to mold a young roster after Boston traded Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn over the summer.
The Celtics turned in one of their better performances Tuesday, shooting 49.4 percent from the floor while matching their season high with 11 3-pointers in a 108-100 win over Milwaukee to split a home-and-home series with the Bucks.
Jordan Crawford totaled 43 points in the two games, but spurred the latest victory by scoring 15 of his season-high 25 points in the fourth quarter.
"We've just got to learn to stay focused and pull out these wins - grind them out," said Crawford, who was 5-for-5 from the field in the fourth, including three 3-pointers.
While Boston is unceremoniously leading the Atlantic, Denver (11-7) is third in the Northwest.
The Nuggets are trying to get back on track after falling 98-88 at Cleveland on Wednesday, ending their season-high seven-game winning streak. They matched a season low in points while shooting 39.1 percent from the field - 6-for-23 from long range.
That performance was in stark contrast to Denver's 50.6-percent shooting effort in a 111-87 victory at Brooklyn a day earlier.
"Every team plays back-to-back. It's not impossible to win the second game in a back-to-back," J.J. Hickson told the team's official website. "One of the things coach (Brian Shaw) has said all season is that we're going to be a no-excuse team. We're not going to make any excuses.
"We just have to get back to the drawing board."
An improved performance from Ty Lawson would surely help.
The guard leads the team with averages of 19.3 points and 8.2 assists, but he had a season-low four points while missing 12 of 13 from the field against the Cavaliers.
"I feel like I missed all easy shots," said Lawson, who had 11 assists. "I ain't never shot 1-for-13 before in my life."
He's hit 21 of 35 from the field - 5 of 11 from 3-point range - while totaling 55 points and 15 assists over the last two meetings with the Celtics. That includes 29 points, nine assists and six rebounds in a 118-114, triple-overtime loss at Boston on Feb. 10.
The Celtics are 32-7 all-time at home against the Nuggets, winning the last three while averaging 112.0 points.