NBA: Celtics aim to avoid first three-game skid when they visit Pelicans

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The Boston Celtics have lost consecutive games for just the third time all season.

They’ll try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of 2023-24 when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.

The Celtics (57-16) still have the NBA’s best record and had won nine games in a row before losing twice in three nights to the Hawks in Atlanta. They lost a 30-point lead in a 120-118 loss Monday and dropped a 123-122 decision Thursday when Dejounte Murray made a basket in the final second of overtime.

“Winning is hard and we’ve been fortunate enough to be on that side a lot,” said Jayson Tatum, who led Boston with 31 points, 13 rebounds and six assists Thursday. “(The last two games) are a good reminder that you can’t take (anything) for granted.

“Every single night is going to be tough. We’re going to have a lot more close games on this playoff run. So (we’ve got to) get ready for it.”

The nature of the two losses in Atlanta was disappointing, but Boston already has clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference so the rest of the regular season is essentially preparation for the playoffs.

The Celtics, who are 2-2 on a six-game road trip that concludes Monday in Charlotte, were out-rebounded 53-43 and the Hawks finished with 17 offensive rebounds and 30 second-chance points.

“That’s the game right there,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I thought we played a hell of a game outside of that component. If we rebound the basketball and hold them to one shot, we win in regulation.”

Boston’s Jaylen Brown said that the rebounding disparity might be “a good reminder that we’ve got to emphasize that,” which is especially true because rebounding was a key to New Orleans’ 107-100 home victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night.

The Pelicans had an 11-5 edge in offensive rebounds, which led to a 17-5 advantage in second-chance points. Starting center Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 10 rebounds and reserve center Larry Nance Jr. had nine points and seven rebounds.

“They were both awesome,” coach Willie Green said.

New Orleans (45-28) is 1-1 to start a six-game homestand that began with a 119-112 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. The first five games are against teams with winning records.

“These games matter,” Nance said. “These games count. Not to take away anything from the teams previously in the season. The race to 50 (wins) is on. We want to get the wins, but you have to go through some really good teams to get there, and you have to go through some really good teams to solidify our spot in the playoffs.”

The Pelicans are in fifth place in the Western Conference, but are in position to move into fourth and grab homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They also could slip backward into a play-in spot.

The Celtics won the first meeting with the Pelicans, 118-112, on Jan. 29 in Boston. New Orleans led by 17 points in the first half, but Tatum scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to lead the victory.

–Field Level Media

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