The Boston Celtics have a lengthy win streak over the Minnesota Timberwolves in small part because they've limited Kevin Love's scoring when he's been healthy enough to play.
The Celtics might have a more difficult time containing the Timberwolves' All-Star as they attempt to take control of the Atlantic Division on Friday night at the Target Center.
Boston (28-22) has won nine in a row over the Timberwolves (25-27) and could use another victory as it tries to pass Philadelphia in the division. The teams are tied atop the Atlantic with the 76ers playing in Washington on Friday.
The Celtics have won five of six to claim a share of that lead and recorded their third straight win Wednesday, 94-82 against Utah. Former Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to help his team pull away after blowing an 18-point advantage.
"We kind of smell the end of the season, with the playoffs coming," said Paul Pierce, who has scored at least 20 points in five straight games. "This is the time of year you've got to step it up and get ready."
Pierce has averaged 24.4 points over his last five contests - 5.4 above his season mark - but Love has been the NBA's most productive scorer this month, averaging 31.3.
He's also averaged 37.3 points and 16.3 rebounds over the past four contests, and had 40 points and 19 boards during an 88-83 win in Charlotte on Wednesday in which he once again showcased his 3-point shooting.
Love went 4 for 7 beyond the arc and has converted 16 of 30 over the last four games, including seven during a career-best 51-point performance in Oklahoma City last Friday.
"He's just playing at a high level," coach Rick Adelman said. "His concentration is at a high level. He's been spectacular. What else can you say?"
Matchups with Boston, though, haven't usually brought out the best in Love. He's averaged 10.5 points on 36.4 percent shooting in four games - his worst average against any opponent.
Love had 24 rebounds during his previous game against Boston on Jan. 3, 2011, but scored 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting in a 96-93 road loss. He missed an 85-82 home defeat to the Celtics last March with a strained left groin and has sat out two of the past four matchups.
The win was Boston's fourth in a row at the Target Center, and Pierce led the way with 23 points. He's averaged 25.0 over his last three matchups with the Timberwolves.
Minnesota will try to contain the Celtics forward this time while seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since a three-game streak March 3-7. The Timberwolves have dropped eight of 12 and two of three at home following a season-high five-game win streak.
Minnesota is 11th in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind a group of three teams tied for seventh.
Boston is seventh in the East, five games ahead of ninth-place Milwaukee, but would move to fourth if it can take over sole possession of the Atlantic lead.
Garnett has averaged 12.4 points in five career games against his former team, his worst versus any opponent over his career. Ray Allen, meanwhile, has missed the last four games with a sore right ankle but will travel with the team to Minneapolis.
The Celtics are listing him as a game-time decision.