NBA Basketball

Without Irving, Celtics seek momentum vs. Cavs

The Boston Celtics, trying to gather momentum with a big game coming up Friday, get an opportunity to turn things around when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

The Celtics (43-31) have lost four straight to fall two games behind Indiana (45-29) in the race for the No. 4 position in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Those teams play Friday night in Boston.

It's possible the Celtics could erase that deficit by the time they're done with business on Friday, if first they can beat Cleveland, and Indiana then loses at Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

The Celtics and Pacers also meet in Indianapolis on April 5.

First up for Boston is Cleveland, which has played better than the Celtics over the past four games. And Boston won't have point guard Kyrie Irving, who will miss Tuesday's game due to load management, the team announced Monday.

Irving will be rested after struggling during Sunday's 115-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. He scored just 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting while recording 12 assists.

Irving was on a roll entering the contest by scoring 30 or more points in each of the previous five games.

Forwards Al Horford (knee) and Jayson Tatum (back) were listed as questionable on Monday, while rookie center Robert Williams was doubtful with a back injury.

Horford has missed the past two games; Tatum and Williams sat out against San Antonio.

Cleveland won two of three on its most recent homestand, beating Detroit and Milwaukee, before losing to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Cavaliers then lost a second straight game Sunday in a rematch at Milwaukee.

While it appears the Cavaliers (19-55) have no incentive to try hard these days, coach Larry Drew insisted otherwise.

"Actually they are playing for something: It's called pride," he said last week.

"When you get in this situation, it's easy to roll over. But the one thing I want these guys to understand is that you gotta take the bitter with the sweet. Sometimes it's not going to be the way you want it to be or how you hope it would be, but you still have to play through it."

Cleveland has had no luck against the Celtics this season, getting blown out twice at Boston before playing competitively in a 103-96 home loss in February.

Boston's four-game losing streak has come against playoff contenders, with losses to Denver, Philadelphia, Charlotte and San Antonio.

The Celtics have found an assortment of ways to lose, from getting overwhelmed by Joel Embiid, to allowing the Hornets to make a dramatic late comeback, to simply getting outplayed by the Spurs.

Guard Marcus Smart told reporters after the San Antonio loss that it is not too late to head down a new road.

"We got a lot of guys back, and we're all trying to figure out exactly what are everybody favorite things to do and what spots that everybody excels at and make sure we get everybody in the right position," he said.

"We're still fooling with it. But I see great progress. And I'm excited. I'm ecstatic. And I'm happy with what we're doing. Yeah, we've been losing, and it's been frustrating. But that's the beauty of this game. We get to go play another one and we get another chance to go out there and work on things we need to work on."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 25, 2019

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