Although they've already clinched a playoff spot, it's unlikely the Boston Celtics are going to let up with still plenty more at stake.
Boston hosts the Chicago Bulls on Friday, looking to win its seventh straight following an impressive victory over another of the league's best teams.
The Celtics (47-12), who missed the playoffs the last two seasons, became the first NBA team to clinch a postseason spot following a 90-78 win over Detroit on Wednesday. In a matchup between the top teams in the Eastern Conference, Boston led the entire way, outscoring the Pistons 23-13 in the opening quarter. Kevin Garnett scored a season-high 31 points and Kendrick Perkins added 10 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
With the victory, the Celtics increased their lead to four games over the second-place Pistons for the best record in the conference. Boston won two of three meetings between the teams during the regular season, and they could meet again in the playoffs.
As Boston moves toward securing the top seed in the East, it has a very favorable stretch over the next week to help it get closer. Including this contest against Chicago (25-36), the Celtics will play four straight games against teams with losing records.
"All these games count," said Garnett, who is 23 points shy of 20,000 in his career. "We are trying to get home-court advantage. ... All these games are huge for us."
With Wednesday's victory, Boston improved to 27-4 at home this season. The Celtics, winners of nine straight at home, are holding opponents to an average of 87.6 points there - second-fewest behind Detroit.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are trying to win three in a row for the first time this season. Chicago beat visiting Cleveland 107-96 on Thursday as Luol Deng and Ben Gordon each scored 23 points and rookie Joakim Noah had 13 points and a season-high 20 rebounds.
Noah, who registered his fifth double-double, is averaging 8.0 points and 7.9 rebounds in eight games since taking over as the team's starting center.
With Thursday's win and Tuesday's 112-97 victory over Memphis, Chicago won back-to-back games for just the fourth time this season. The Bulls, though, are still in playoff contention in the mediocre East. They are tied with Atlanta for ninth place, one game behind New Jersey for the final playoff spot.
"So much has happened during the season, but we've got to stick with it and keep playing," Deng said. "It's all about a rhythm."
Chicago's Tyrus Thomas, who is averaging 6.3 points and 4.6 rebounds, will sit out Friday as he serves the second and final game of a suspension for skipping practice Wednesday. Thomas did not say why he skipped practice but that he and interim coach Jim Boylan had a talk that "broke some barriers."
Boston has won both meetings against the Bulls this season, including a 107-82 home victory on Dec. 21. The Celtics had lost eight straight against the Bulls.
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