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Celtics-Bucks Preview

Apr 10, 2010 - 3:50 AM By CHRIS ALTRUDA STATS Editor

Boston (49-29) at Milwaukee (44-34), 8:30 p.m. EDT

The Milwaukee Bucks have played well since a season-ending injury to center Andrew Bogut. Their potential reward could be a first-round playoff series against the slumping Boston Celtics.

The two teams meet Saturday night at the Bradley Center, where the surging Bucks try to strengthen their hold on the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference and the Celtics look to regroup in a late bid for the third seed.

Milwaukee (45-34), heading back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, has won four straight. The last three have come without Bogut, who broke his right hand and dislocated his elbow on a fall following a dunk in a 107-98 victory April 3 over Phoenix.

Without Bogut's 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, the Bucks have tightened defensively and limited opponents to 84.3 points per game in those three victories. After John Salmons carried the offense the first two games, Carlos Delfino picked up the slack for the flu-ridden swingman with 23 points in Friday's 95-90 victory over Philadelphia.

"I think that for what we've been through in losing Andrew, it's important that we've been able to win two or three in a row," guard Luke Ridnour said. "He is a huge part of our team and everyone else on the team has to do a little bit more for us to be successful."

Salmons played 24 minutes and had seven points on 2-of-7 shooting, but rookie Brandon Jennings contributed 16 points - making all seven of his free throws.

The victory, coupled with Miami's loss to Detroit, gave the Bucks a one-game lead over the Heat - against whom they hold the tiebreaker - for the fifth spot with three games remaining. Milwaukee, though, has a difficult close to the season with a home game versus Atlanta on Monday and a matchup at Boston on Wednesday.

While the Bucks appear to be peaking at the right time, the Celtics (49-30) are trending in the opposite direction. They came out completely flat and listless against the 25-win Wizards on Friday, falling behind by 28 points and getting booed in the first half of a 106-96 home defeat.

"We're at home. We look for our fans to give us energy, to give us a spark when times are tough," forward Kevin Garnett said. "It doesn't help when the boos happen, but we are a veteran team. When that occurs we all just get together and say, 'We just have to grind this out."'

Rajon Rondo had 17 points and 12 assists for Boston, which has lost five of seven and allowed more than 100 points in six consecutive games. Its defense has yielded 109.2 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting - 40.6 from 3-point range - to cancel out an effective offense that has averaged 107.8 points while shooting 51.8 percent in that span.

The teams have split two games this season, but Bogut was nearly unstoppable in averaging 25.0 points and 15.5 rebounds while posting double-doubles in both contests. He had 25 points and 17 rebounds in an 86-84 victory March 9, but it was Jennings who sparked a key fourth-quarter run after a hard foul by Glenn Davis.