With their two latest victories, the Boston Celtics may have silenced any remaining skeptics who questioned their status as the NBA's best team. With every loss to a championship contender, the questions are piling up for the Dallas Mavericks.
The league-best Celtics look for their third impressive win in four nights in Texas on Thursday when they face the Mavericks, who have struggled to keep up with the league's top teams.
Boston (54-13) began its current five-game road trip with a 99-77 win Saturday in Milwaukee, then fell behind by as many as 22 points Monday in San Antonio before rallying to beat the Spurs 93-91.
The Celtics carried that momentum over the next night, dominating Houston 94-74 and ending the Rockets' 22-game winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history.
"There wasn't really a lot of talking on the bus (in San Antonio) after the win," said Kevin Garnett, who had game highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds against Houston. "I know when we're like that, we're focused."
Boston limited Houston to 34 points in the second half, holding Tracy McGrady to just one basket. The Rockets hadn't scored fewer than 80 this season before Tuesday.
"I've never seen a defense like that," McGrady said. "I mean, if they play defense like that, night in and night out, the NBA is in trouble because that was defense at its finest."
Playing stingy defense is nothing new for the Celtics, who allow a league-low 90.0 points per game. They've given up just 80.7 points in the three wins on this trip.
What's made the Celtics' two Texas victories even more notable is that they've done it without Ray Allen, who's averaging 18.3 points per game. Allen jammed his left ankle in Boston's 110-92 loss to Utah - its only blemish in the last 14 games - last Friday, and has missed the team's last three games, though coach Doc Rivers said he could "possibly" play at Dallas (44-24).
But the Celtics - who with the depth provided by recently signed veterans Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown are regularly playing 11 players - have gotten major contributions from some surprise sources. Leon Powe, who plays only 12.7 minutes per night, had 21 points in Houston.
The Mavericks come in having won five of their last six, but they've been feasting on some of the NBA's worst teams. Since acquiring Jason Kidd on Feb. 19, the Mavs have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
Dallas made it 0-for-6 against above-.500 teams since Kidd's arrival in its latest game. The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 25 points against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday before rallying in the fourth quarter, ultimately losing 102-100 when Dirk Nowitzki's 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.
Despite the loss, coach Avery Johnson wasn't discouraged.
"My confidence is not shaken," he told the team's official Web site. "We are disappointed because we don't like coming in second. But again, every game is a playoff game and they played it early on more like they were playing for their basketball lives and we didn't."
Nowitzki - who had 35 against the Lakers - has stepped up his game with Kidd in the lineup, averaging 27.6 points since Feb. 20.
But Kidd hasn't been quite what Dallas was hoping for. He's averaging just 5.6 points in his last seven games - he's scoring 10.8 on the season - and his assist totals have dropped as well.
The Mavericks, tied atop the Southwest Division on Feb. 4, are now fourth in the division and seventh in the packed Western Conference.
Boston has dropped its last seven games in Dallas, last winning there on March 18, 2000.
The Celtics conclude their trip Saturday night against New Orleans.
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