The Boston Celtics have been stumbling as they deal with injuries to a number of their stars, but a road game against the NBA's worst team should provide a welcome respite.
The New Jersey Nets have lost five straight, but they will try for a major upset Wednesday night against a Celtics team likely to take the floor without Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace.
Boston (26-10) dropped five of its last eight games, with Paul Pierce also missing time in that stretch as the veteran-laden team struggles to overcome several key injuries.
Pierce has returned from a knee problem, but Garnett and Wallace could remain out at least another week. Wallace, who had been replacing Garnett in the starting lineup, missed his first game this season Monday with a sore left foot. The Celtics went on to lose 102-96 at home to Atlanta.
Garnett's absence, however, has been the most jarring for Boston. The forward has played about half of the Celtics' minutes this season, with Boston outscoring opponents by a combined 198 points with him in the game and by 50 with him on the bench.
"He got to start working out (Monday) for the first time," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Now it's just a conditioning thing. We want to make sure he gets strong and back in shape because he literally hasn't done anything. We figure 10 days to two weeks, that's what it'll take."
The Celtics certainly could have used Garnett's defensive presence against the Hawks as they allowed at least 100 points for the fourth time in six games. Boston has allowed 103.3 points a contest during Garnett's six-game absence, nearly 10 above its average.
Rivers was ejected Monday for arguing a flagrant foul called on Glen Davis during the third quarter. The sequence may have sparked a comeback for the Hawks, who outscored Boston by nine points in the final 12 minutes.
"It was just a terrible situation, whether it was justified or not," guard Ray Allen told the NBA's official Web site. "Up until that point we were playing well and after that the game did change."
A loss to New Jersey (3-34) would be far more deflating for Boston. The Nets are on pace for the worst record in NBA history, and their five-game losing streak is only their third longest of 2009-10. New Jersey dropped 10 in a row in December and 18 straight to start the season.
The team returns home after a three-game road trip that ended with a 97-85 loss at San Antonio on Sunday.
"It's very frustrating," forward Chris Douglas-Roberts said.
Center Brook Lopez had 28 points and 11 rebounds against the Spurs, but the Nets didn't get much production from their backcourt as Devin Harris sat out with wrist tendinitis.
Keyon Dooling, his replacement in the starting lineup, and Courtney Lee combined for 14 points on 6-of-21 shooting and did not get to the free-throw line. It's unclear if Harris will return against the Celtics.
Harris, Lee, Dooling, Douglas-Roberts and Yi Jianlian missed the Nets' previous meeting with Boston, an 86-76 loss in New Jersey on Nov. 7.