By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
Posted Mar 12 2012
Struggles on the road are one reason the Boston Celtics aren't in their customary position atop the Atlantic Division.
A visit to the Los Angeles Clippers may have spelled more trouble earlier in the season, but it doesn't look so intimidating right now.
The Celtics look to rebound from their latest road defeat as they continue their eight-game road trip Monday night against a sputtering Clippers team that just lost its grip on the top spot in the Pacific.
Boston (21-19) has cruised to four straight division titles, but adding to that run is proving problematic, due partially to a 5-11 road record. That includes a dismal 1-7 stretch, during which the Celtics are averaging 82.9 points and shooting 42.8 percent from the floor.
The Celtics, who trail Philadelphia by three games in the Atlantic, fell 97-94 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon to open their longest road trip of the season. Paul Pierce's 3-point attempt was blocked by Kobe Bryant before Rajon Rondo missed another shot in the final second.
"They made shots down the stretch, and we didn't," said Rondo, who finished with 24 points and 10 assists. "We had some good looks at the rim, but the shots didn't fall and we couldn't get a stop the last couple of minutes. ... It's not difficult to win on the road. We're just not getting it done. We just have to close out quarters better and continue to work on our execution."
Rondo and the Celtics may find Sunday's matchup more favorable since the Clippers (23-16) have dropped four of their last six at Staples Center, including a 97-93 defeat to Golden State on Sunday night to open a season-high six-game homestand mere hours after the Lakers beat the Celtics on the same court.
That combination of results dropped the Clippers out of the Pacific Division lead, one game behind the Lakers. Now, the Clippers will try to avoid their first three-game home skid since Dec. 8-12, 2010. They had only themselves to blame Sunday after missing 16 of 35 free throws versus the Warriors.
"That's the real story of this. We beat ourselves," said guard Chris Paul, who had 23 points but went 3 of 6 from the line. "The bad part of it is how we started out. We dug ourselves our own hole. We were getting a lot of open shots, but at some point, you can't hope they miss. You've got to make yours."
Paul is shooting 59.2 percent from the floor over his last three games while averaging 27.0 points and 8.7 assists. He'll likely play a second consecutive game with a clear protective mask after suffering a nasal fracture in the first quarter of Friday's 120-108 win at San Antonio.
"It's different, but it doesn't inhibit anything," said Paul, who missed all nine of his field goal attempts and finished with four points and 15 assists in a loss to Boston with New Orleans on March 19, 2011.
Boston won last season's visit to play the Clippers on Feb. 26, 2011, getting 24 points from Paul Pierce and 22 from Ray Allen while Rondo dished out 11 assists.
Pierce has struggled over his last three road games, averaging 13.7 points while hitting just 34.2 percent from the field overall and shooting- 3 for 13 from 3-point range.