3/20 Game Preview: Celtics at Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs have won six straight over the Boston Celtics, who were blown out when these teams met back in November.

Tyler Zeller got his first start with Boston then, and he's got nearly an entirely different cast of characters around him now.

The red-hot Zeller and his visiting Celtics figure to pose a bigger challenge for the Spurs in this matchup Friday night.

San Antonio (42-25) scored 66 second-half points to cruise to a 111-89 win Nov. 30 at Boston. Zeller, acquired from Cleveland in the offseason, had seven points and 10 rebounds.

The Celtics also started Jared Sullinger, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green that night. Sullinger is out for the season and the other two have been traded. Avery Bradley is the only starter besides Zeller remaining from that contest.

Zeller is averaging 18.7 points on 75.8 percent shooting in his last three games. The Celtics have lauded the 7-footer's ability to step outside and make catch-and-shoot jumpers, with Zeller hitting 60.8 percent of those shots from between 15-20 feet.

The new-look Boston lineup also features rookie Marcus Smart, who did not play in the first meeting. Smart scored a season-high 25 points in Wednesday's 122-118 loss at Oklahoma City.

"It's just one of those nights," Smart said. "My teammates did a good job of finding me in the right positions to score the ball."

Boston (30-37) had its season-high five-game win streak snapped despite shooting 52.4 percent for its sixth-best mark. Brandon Bass and Kelly Olynyk each added 20 points.

"We were playing really hard, but we didn't balance poise and assertiveness well at the level you need to to win in this building, in a game where they played really well," coach Brad Stevens said.

The Celtics, tied with Indiana for eighth in the Eastern Conference, will play a sixth straight game without Isaiah Thomas, who has a bruised lower back. Thomas averages 21.4 points for Boston, which acquired him Feb. 19 from Phoenix.

San Antonio bounced back from Tuesday's embarrassing 104-100 overtime loss at New York with a 114-103 victory the next night at Milwaukee. Danny Green's 20 points led six Spurs in double figures versus the Bucks.

"It's basketball, not magic," said coach Gregg Popovich, who blasted his club after the defeat to the lowly Knicks. "You have to do things consistently and well more than the other team for the 48 minutes."

Tony Parker is averaging 22.0 points on 58.6 percent shooting in his last eight games. He scored 15 on 6-of-7 shooting Wednesday.

"I gave up a long time ago trying to understand the game of basketball," he said. "It is weird."

The Spurs played a second straight game without Manu Ginobili, who sprained his ankle Sunday.

Boston is averaging a league-best 20.9 points off turnovers since the All-Star break. The Celtics play at a faster tempo than any East team, averaging 98.48 possessions per 48 minutes.

The club averaged 13.6 turnovers during its win streak before the Thunder forced 20.

"They were speeding us up. We were trying to make thread-the-needle passes and passes that weren't there, myself and all of us," Bradley said.

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