Celtics will face Nets without Thomas

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NEW YORK — The Boston Celtics were starting to feel healthy in
recent games, with effective performances from their projected
starting lineup of Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder,
Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley.

It was a fact Thomas made note of Wednesday when he said: “We
haven’t been together that much. We go together four, five
games and somebody will get hurt or go down, and then we’ll go
another four or five games together. So I’m glad we could get a
good stretch of games together. Hopefully everyone will stay
healthy and we can finish the season off right.”

The Celtics will get further opportunities to see their lineup
complete again, but it will not occur this weekend as Thomas
will sit out Friday’s visit to the Brooklyn Nets due a bone
bruise in his right knee.

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Thomas is not on the trip and will not play Sunday in
Philadelphia. At the moment, the Celtics said the absence will
be for two games, meaning, if there are no further setbacks,
the point guard will return for a home game against the
Washington Wizards on Monday.

Friday would have been the 29th time the Celtics used their
regular lineup this season.

The Celtics are 21-7 when using their projected starting five.
In the last two games, the Celtics posted double-digit home
victories over the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves,
and the starting five combined for 138 points and a plus-143.

Those numbers do not mean they were all on the court at the
same time, but Thomas’ absence gives coach Brad Stevens less
time to see what the alignment looks like.

In the 28 games the starters have played, they have been on the
court for 334 minutes, which translates to about 11.9 minutes
per contest.

Thomas has not been immune to missing time. He missed four
games with a strained right groin Dec. 7-14 and the Celtics
lost three times as Marcus Smart started at point guard.

During Thomas’ first absence, the Celtics averaged 102 points,
shot 44.3 percent and made 32.8 percent from 3-point range. The
schedule also was different as Boston lost close games to the
Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

This time, the schedule appears to be in Boston’s favor, with
two games against losing teams. The Celtics are 30-10 against
losing teams after Thomas scored 27 points Wednesday in a
117-104 win over Minnesota.

“Fourteen games left, you have to play with a sense of
urgency,” Thomas said. “Every game counts. So we know what’s at
stake. We want to be the highest seed possible and we know we
have to take care of business, especially with most of the
games being at home.”

The Nets will be attempting to win consecutive games for the
first time since beating Cleveland and Indiana March 24-26,
2016. They also will be attempting to win both ends of a
back-to-back for the first time since March 31-April 1, 2015.

Brooklyn is 4-7 since the All-Star break and 3-5 since snapping
a 16-game losing streak March 1 in Sacramento.

Jeremy Lin has appeared in each game and has reached double
figures eight times. He scored 15 and handed out eight assists
Thursday in a 121-110 win over the New York Knicks.

“I’m just trying to get us as many wins as I can,” Lin told YES
Network. “I’m trying to control the game in a way that it makes
everyone’s job easier.”

On Thursday, the Nets controlled things in the second half.
Brooklyn outscored the Knicks 67-49 after halftime and stopped
a 33-game road losing streak against Eastern Conference
opponents.

“At the end of the day it comes down to how badly you want it,
and that’s kind of something we addressed at halftime,” Lin
said. “We felt like we were flat and we wanted to push the
pace.”

Brook Lopez scored 24 points while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
added 20, and the Nets started 2 of 16 from 3-point range but
hit 8 of 15 after halftime.

Brooklyn played without reserve Sean Kilpatrick (left
hamstring). Kilpatrick is not expected to play Friday and K.J.
McDaniels could see some of those minutes after playing 18
minutes, though he also saw time because Trevor Booker was
rested.

Thomas scored 48 points in Boston’s first two wins over the
Nets this season. The Celtics are 6-2 in the last eight
meetings and have won the last three meetings by holding Lopez
to 39 points on 11-of-35 shooting.

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