Even with Kevin Garnett on the court, the Boston Celtics have struggled against the Southeast Division. But that hasn't been the case against the lowly Miami Heat.
The Celtics will have to make do without Garnett again on Tuesday night when they visit Miami, which is coming off its first victory in more than a month.
Garnett, who averages 19.2 points and a team-leading 9.9 rebounds, is battling a strained abdominal muscle suffered during an 87-86 win over Minnesota on Friday. He has been ruled out of this matchup, though he could return Thursday to play against Dallas.
"He always wants to play, which is good," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "But he understands it's the right thing for the team."
The injury forced him to miss a game for the first time this season on Sunday, and Boston lost 96-93 at Orlando on a last-second 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu.
"Obviously Kevin is the heart and soul of what we do," said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who scored 17 points. "So it was tough not seeing him out there."
The Celtics (34-8) own the best record in the NBA, but are 6-5 against teams from the Southeast. The only time all season they lost consecutive games came against a team from that division, getting swept in a home-and-home set versus Washington from Jan. 12-14.
However, Boston has won both of its meetings with the Heat (9-33) behind outstanding play from Garnett, who was named to his 11th All-Star game on Thursday.
Garnett had 26 points and 11 rebounds in a 92-91 home victory over Miami on Nov. 16 before scoring 23 points and grabbing nine boards in a 95-85 road win on Nov. 30.
With Garnett out again Tuesday, the Celtics hope for a better performance from his replacement in the starting lineup. Brian Scalabrine filled his spot Sunday and had only one point and one rebound in 22 minutes.
Garnett's absence means Allen and Paul Pierce will try to carry the scoring load. Pierce had 24 points Sunday, but that was just the second time in 11 games he's scored more than 20 and he's gone 5-for-18 from 3-point range over the last four games. During that same span, Allen has been held to an average of 16.3 points while shooting 35.8 percent from the field.
Pierce had 27 points in the last meeting with the Heat, giving him a 28.4 scoring average in his last five games against them.
Miami is looking to build on a 98-96 win over Indiana on Saturday, which snapped its 15-game losing streak - second-longest in team history. The Heat hadn't won since beating Utah on Dec. 22.
"You don't like to be part of that every day," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "So they're just happy this thing is over with."
The Heat, who are closing a seven-game homestand, are looking to win back-to-back games for just the second time all season.
They could use another outstanding performance from Dwyane Wade, who had 35 points and eight rebounds against the Pacers. The All-Star guard is averaging 32.6 points over the last five games.
Wade shot 2-of-11 from the field and was held to a season-low 10 points in the last meeting with Boston.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited