With perhaps the toughest part of their season slate facing them down, the Celtics return home Friday night to face the red-hot Dallas Mavericks and their equally hot superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, in a rare 8 p.m. start (CSN, ESPN).
Nowitzki is one of the most notorious Celtics killers. He averages 27.3 points per game against the Green, his most against any opponent, and has put up a stellar 27.7 per game when playing at TD Garden. Since a stretch last month in which the Mavs lost six in a row and seven out of eight, they've exploded into a six-game winning streak, averaging 104.5 points per game over that run.
The Celts, fresh off of a 3-1, West coast road swing, open up a stretch tonight in which they play four of the league's top teams in their next five games. After getting done with Dallas, the C's will face Orlando on Sunday, the Lakers on Thursday and Miami a week from Sunday. All of those games will be at home, but that hardly lessens the challenge of going up against such top-level competition.
After having four players (Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team Thursday night, the Celts may have to face the Mavs without one of their former all-stars. Shaquille O'Neal, who has battled a litany of minor injuries all season, missed practice Thursday with an inflamed Achilles and is questionable against the Mavs.
If Shaq can't go, the door opens for Kendrick Perkins, now five games into his comeback from major knee surgery, to return to the starting lineup. Having Perk back in that role will certainly do nothing to hurt the defense, which has held each of the C's last 10 foes to less than 50 percent shooting while allowing just 90 points per game over that time.
The Celts (37-11) host the Mavericks (33-15) Friday night at 8 p.m. EST, on ESPN and Comcast Sports Net New England.