The Portland Trail Blazers needed a month before finally getting into a groove. It took a lot longer for the Boston Celtics to experience any prolonged failure.
Losers of consecutive games for the first time this season, the Celtics look to remain unbeaten against Western Conference teams when they host the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night in a matchup of two of the NBA's top teams.
Unlike Portland (23-14), which started the season 5-12 before turning its season around, Boston (30-6) has been dominant from the start.
The Celtics hadn't lost two straight all season before dropping a home-and-home series with Washington, losing the finale 88-83 on Monday night. They have now lost three of their last four after losing three of their first 32 games.
Monday's loss also gave Boston consecutive defeats at home for the first time. The Celtics are 16-3 at TD Banknorth Garden on the season.
"We need to fix things before Portland," Boston star Kevin Garnett said.
A matchup against a team in the West seems to give the Celtics a good chance to avoid their first three-game losing streak since a seven-game skid last April. They are 10-0 versus the West this season.
Boston, though, will need to break out of its slump on offense, especially against a Portland team that allows 95.5 points per game. The Celtics are averaging 99.1 points per game on the season, but have posted just 82.5 over their last four contests.
"As much as we preach defense, offensively I think we've hit a little snag," Boston guard Ray Allen said. "We do have to score more points. We're capable of scoring 100-plus points per night, and right now we're not doing that."
Allen is averaging 10.2 points per game - 7.4 below his season average - while shooting 31.0 percent from the field in his last five games. Meanwhile, Paul Pierce, who leads Boston with 20.9 points per game, has topped the team in scoring just once in the team's last eight contests.
Garnett, though, has remained consistent during the Celtics' struggles, averaging 21.5 points while shooting 51.7 percent from the floor in his last four games. He will be facing a Blazers team he matched up with four times every season before the Minnesota Timberwolves traded him during the offseason.
Portland made a concerted effort to get its top big man the ball more often Monday, and LaMarcus Aldridge responded by finishing with 20 points in the Blazers' 99-73 win over New Jersey.
Portland coach Nate McMillan wanted Aldridge more involved after the 6-foot-11 forward was held to 11 points in a 116-109 double-overtime loss to Toronto on Sunday.
"We just need to establish a low post," said McMillan, whose team has won 18 of 20.
Wednesday's game will be the third stop for the Blazers on their season-high seven-game stretch on the road, where they have won six of eight after losing their first nine this season.
Portland got a boost Monday with starting point guard Steve Blake returning after missing a game with a left calf injury. Blake finished with five points while Brandon Roy, his backcourt mate, had 16.
Roy, who leads the Blazers with 19.0 points a contest, had a career-high 33 versus the Raptors on Sunday.
Portland has swept its last two season series with Boston, winning the four games by an average margin of 18.5 points.
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