2/24 Game Preview: Celtics at Nets

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In the weeks leading up to the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets experienced lengthy streaks and significantly changed their positioning in a crowded Eastern Conference playoff race.

After experiencing those wild swings, the Celtics and Nets begin the stretch drive of the regular season Thursday night when the teams convene in Brooklyn for the second time this month.

The Celtics headed into the All-Star break with 11 wins in 13 games to go from 10th place to sixth. The hot streak included a 126-91 rout in Brooklyn on Feb. 8 when the Celtics scored the game's first 14 points and led by as many as 35.

The win in Brooklyn was part of a nine-game winning streak that featured six double-digit victories. The Celtics also held seven opponents under 100 points and topped 110 points five times during the streak.

Boston's streak ended on Feb. 16 when Jayson Tatum's jumper bounced off the rim at the buzzer of a 112-111 loss to the Detroit Pistons.

"Definitely look at it and see that we did a lot of good things," Boston's Al Horford said. "I felt like we established a little bit of an identity of how we want to play on the defensive end, setting the tone defensively.

"Then playing faster on offense and getting some good ball movement. At times obviously we go to isolation, but when I look at it, that's kind of like the blueprint of how we want to play moving forward."

The Nets held second place in the East after a 138-112 rout in Chicago on Jan. 12 but headed into the break in eighth place by virtue of 14 losses in 19 games, a stretch in which Kevin Durant played 12 minutes.

Durant sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the second quarter of a 120-105 win over New Orleans on Jan. 15. The Nets won two of the first three games without him but then endured seven double-digit losses during an 11-game skid.

The 11-game slide coincided with James Harden's desire to become a former Net due to various factors. It resulted in Harden being traded to Philadelphia for Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and Ben Simmons.

While Curry and Drummond have fared well in three appearances for Brooklyn, Simmons has yet to make his debut. Simmons is unlikely to be ready for Thursday, but general manager Sean Marks hinted this week that Simmons and Durant could return soon.

Whoever is available, the Nets hope the first of six straight games against teams ahead of them in the East doesn't unfold like their final contest before the break. After ending the skid with a wire-to-wire 24-point win over Sacramento on Feb. 14 and rallying from a 28-point deficit to beat the New York Knicks two nights later, the Nets allowed 39 points in the fourth quarter of a 117-103 loss to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 17.

"We're excited. We have 22 games to come together as a team," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "Hopefully, we have a good run of health where we can really build something in a short period of time and get a better seed and also more cohesions going into the playoffs."