Celtics Could Keep Win Streak Rolling, Take Over First Place With Charlotte, Portland Coming to Town

Kelly Olynyk, Jeff Green, Avery BradleyThanks to a near-miracle rally Saturday in Miami when the Celtics, who were 13-point underdogs to the two-time NBA champion Heat, won 111-110 on Jeff Green‘s 3-pointer at the buzzer, Boston had a very productive week. The C’s were 4.5-point home favorites in a win over Utah, the NBA’s worst team so far, and a 5.5-point underdog when it went to Orlando and won 91-89 Friday.

The C’s have a good chance at climbing above .500 — maybe even taking first place in the mediocre Atlantic Division — with very winnable homes games Wednesday against Charlotte and Friday versus Portland before starting a three-game road trip Saturday in Minnesota.

The Bobcats have been the worst franchise in the NBA the past two seasons, going a combined 28-120 under the ownership of Michael Jordan. The team looks better in 2013 with the addition of power forward Al Jefferson, drafting of Cody Zeller and improvement by former UConn star point guard Kemba Walker. In his third season, Walker, the 2011 Final Four Most Outstanding Player for the Huskies, is averaging a team-leading 17.3 points and 5.0 assists. He still struggles from the field, but his turnovers are down.

Jefferson returned Monday against Atlanta after sitting out the previous five games with an ankle injury. In addition, coach Steve Clifford returned Monday night after having stents inserted to prevent blockage in his heart Friday. He was taken to the hospital on Thursday night after experiencing chest pains. Charlotte remains the 150-1 long shot with Orlando to win the Eastern Conference. They are 2-1 on the road with upsets in Houston and at the Knicks. Boston has lost two of their past three against the Bobcats but will be around a 4-point favorite.

Portland features 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. He was the fourth player to unanimously win the award and led the league in minutes played. Lillard also set the rookie NBA record for made 3-pointers. Lillard’s scoring is up this season to 20.5 points entering this week and he’s pulling down 5.5 boards a game, a tremendous number for a 6-foot-2 point guard. Portland is one of few teams with three players averaging at least 18 points, with LaMarcus Aldridge at 23.3 per game and Wesley Matthews at 18.0. Boston has won six of their past seven versus Portland.

The Timberwolves look like a Western Conference contender. On Sunday they blew out the Lakers, scoring a team-record 47 points in the first quarter to end a 22-game losing streak in that series. With point guard Ricky Rubio and power forward Kevin Love finally both healthy, the Wolves rank No. 3 in the NBA in scoring. Love is scoring 26.9 points per game, second in the NBA, and adding a league-leading 14.4 rebounds. He’s an early MVP favorite. Rubio leads the league in steals and is No. 4 in assists. New addition Kevin Martin has been terrific, scoring 23.9 points per game.

Minnesota is 28-1 to win the Western Conference. They haven’t been to the playoffs since Kevin Garnett led the franchise to the 2004 Western Conference Final. The Celtics have won 11 of the past 12 meetings with the Timberwolves but will be sizable underdogs Saturday.

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