Game Preview: Nets at Celtics

Winning streaks of even three games have been hard to come by for every team in the Atlantic Division except first-place Toronto.

The Brooklyn Nets will try to do it for the first time this season Friday night when they visit a Boston Celtics club that has managed to accomplish it only twice.

The results for the Nets (12-15) since Dec. 5 have been no surprise given the matchups. They lost to Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago, then beat Philadelphia and Charlotte before another three-game skid against Miami, the Raptors and the Cavaliers. Their current two-game run has come at the expense of Detroit and Denver.

The victories have Brooklyn on the verge of winning three straight for the first time since April 4-8. The Nets won three of more in a row seven times last season.

The Celtics (10-16) are in third place behind Brooklyn but have managed a pair of three-game win streaks. The most recent surge featured victories over the 76ers, Orlando and Minnesota before they lost Sunday at Miami and to the Magic on Tuesday.

Boston was horrendous at the start against Orlando, trailing 26-9 after one quarter, but the Celtics rallied before falling short in a 100-95 defeat.

"We didn't play very well," coach Brad Stevens told the team's official website. "That was fool's gold there at the end. I credit the guys that were in at the end."

The league's two worst teams, New York and Philadelphia, trail the Celtics in the Atlantic behind a combined 9-48 record. The 76ers, however, will also get a chance to post a third straight win Friday at Portland. The Knicks won their second and third games of the season but haven't won back-to-back contests since.

It all seems to be adding up to a cakewalk for the Raptors, who are 22-7 and chasing their second straight division crown. Brooklyn appears to have the best shot at closing the gap, but its trails Toronto by nine games.

The Nets can pick up some steam with their next two at Barclays Center before a Dec. 30 visit to Chicago. The recent play of Mason Plumlee has also sparked an upswing.

In the last two games, Plumlee has a combined 40 points on 18-of-24 shooting and 25 rebounds. He had 19 points and 13 boards - including five on the offensive glass - in Tuesday's 102-96 win over the Nuggets.

"It's a good feeling, but it's just something to build on," said Plumlee, who has averaged 18.1 points on 67.5 percent shooting and 10.6 rebounds in his last seven games - all starts due to a back injury that sidelined center Brook Lopez. "I'm not where I want to be. It's a step in the right direction. It feels good to be where I was at. It's still a ways to go."

Plumlee has had to shoulder a lot of work in the paint in the absence of Lopez, but Brooklyn's regular starter returned to action against Denver and had six points and four boards in just over eight minutes. Lopez, however, has said he's fine with a bench role if coach Lionel Hollins wants Plumlee to continue starting.

"Mason's been great, man. His energy, his effort, taking the challenge and playing some of the premier 4s and 5s in this league," said Joe Johnson, who scored 27 points Tuesday. "I think he's been doing a tremendous job filling in for the absence of Brook."

While Lopez will likely get increasing minutes with each game, starting point guard Deron Williams remains day to day with a strained right calf.

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