Just when the Boston Celtics feel they're getting healthy, they have another starter go down before opening a road-heavy stretch. A visit to the lowly Washington Wizards might soften the blow of being without Shaquille O'Neal.
With O'Neal out, the Celtics look to continue their dominance of the Wizards and extend their winning streak to six Saturday night.
Boston (33-9) has overcome numerous injuries to key personnel to lead the Eastern Conference. The latest blow has O'Neal sidelined for at least one game with a sore right leg.
The 38-year-old center has already missed nine games this season with calf and knee injuries while coach Doc Rivers manages his playing time in an effort to preserve him for the playoffs.
The Celtics are already without Kendrick Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal. Perkins hasn't returned after tearing knee ligaments during the NBA finals, and Jermaine O'Neal is out another month with an injured left knee.
Shaquille O'Neal's absence thins Boston's frontcourt, and he's averaging 9.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
"It's like a soap opera," said forward Kevin Garnett, who's averaging 17.0 points in three games after missing nine with a leg injury. "You've got to be ready on this team. You never know who's going to go down."
The Celtics, who are 8-1 without Shaquille O'Neal, lost him early Friday before easing to a 110-86 win over Utah, maintaining at least a 17-point lead the entire second half.
Semih Erden will likely start in place of the three-time NBA finals MVP after scoring a season-high 14 points while making all five field goals and adding seven rebounds and three steals against the Jazz.
Rivers feels the rookie 7-footer will benefit from being on the floor with Garnett, who scored 21 points Friday.
"We're probably going to need him, probably over the next couple of games," Rivers said. "It forces you to play harder when you play with that group because Kevin's out there and he demands it."
Paul Pierce had 23 points and seven boards in a 114-83 rout of the Wizards (12-29) on Nov. 17, Boston's seventh win in the last eight meetings. The Celtics have won three in a row at the Verizon Center by an average of 15.6 points.
Rivers' team, however, has dropped three of five on the road after winning six in a row. Boston will get a chance to re-establish its success away from home by playing five of the next six as visitors.
The Wizards are looking to bounce back from Friday's 109-91 loss to Phoenix, halting their four-game home winning streak. They're 12-9 at home compared to 0-20 on the road and guard John Wall felt the latest effort was more accustomed to being the visitor.
"Oh, yeah, it felt like a road game. We didn't have no heart. We didn't have no fight. We just gave up pretty quickly," he said.
Wall has struggled in consecutive losses for Washington, making 7 of 24 shots to total 21 points. He missed the last meeting with Boston due to a foot injury.
While Wall has struggled, Nick Young has been red hot. The swingman is averaging 26.3 points while hitting 20 of 40 3-pointers the last six games, and scored 20 against the Celtics in November.