Having had a couple of evenings away to lick their wounds after yet another brutal loss to an inferior opponent on Monday night, the C's (51-22) find themselves deep in the heart of Texas for a Thursday night showdown with another Finals contender in the Spurs at 8 p.m. EDT, on TNT. The Celts will have Jermaine O'Neal, who has played just 17 games this season, in uniform for the first time since Jan. 12. But the Spurs, whose own Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili missed Monday night's loss to Portland with injuries, are expected to be at full strength for the Celtics visit to the AT&T Center.
The Spurs (57-17), have spent the entire season at the top of the Western Conference standings. But like the Celtics, they've fallen on hard times of late, having lost four in a row and seeing what was once a seven game cushion in the standings for first in the West cut in half over the past 10 days. A loss Thursday night would mark San Antonio's longest losing streak since the final six games of the 1996-1997 season, the year before they drafted Duncan with the first overall pick en route to four championships.
Having lost three of four and seven of 12, the Celts are now locked in a tie for second place in the East with the Miami Heat, two and a half games behind first place Chicago. The Bulls and Heat have been on fire while the Celts have been struggling, each having won eight of their last 10. Miami is idle on Thursday, meaning a Celts loss would drop them to third in the East. Rajon Rondo returned from a one-game absence in Monday night's loss against Indiana, putting up his best numbers in weeks with 22 points and eight assists. The 107-100 loss to the Pacers was on the second night of a back-to-back and fatigue may have been an issue as the C's were outscored 26-15 in the fourth quarter.
This will be the second meeting of the season between the Spurs and Celts. Boston won 105-10 on Jan. 5, at TD Garden, shooting 61.3 percent from the floor while getting 31 points from Ray Allen and a monstrous game from Rondo, who recorded a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and a whopping 22 assists.