The Boston Celtics faced some of the top teams in the Western Conference on their recent road trip. They return home to face another.
The Celtics begin a season-high six-game homestand Wednesday when they take on the Denver Nuggets, who will be without coach George Karl for a while as they try to maintain the No. 2 seed in the West.
Boston (45-25) is closing in on a third straight Atlantic Division title and battling Atlanta for one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference. It returns home after a successful road trip, which included wins over Houston and Dallas.
The Celtics almost completed a sweep of the stretch before giving up a 12-point first half lead in a 110-97 loss to Utah on Monday, which snapped a four-game winning streak.
Boston was ahead by five after the first half, but Utah went on a 9-0 run to start the third quarter and took control by outscoring the Celtics 33-19 in the period. Paul Pierce also cooled off after averaging 28.0 points in the previous three games. He shot 3 for 11 from the field, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.
"We were kind of reacting to everything they were doing and then before you know it we were down," said Ray Allen, who scored 15 points.
It was the first time in five games the Celtics allowed an opponent to reach 100 points. They have the second-best scoring defense in the NBA, holding opponents to 94.4 points per game.
Boston also struggled to contain the Nuggets the last time the two met. Denver (47-24) shot 51.3 percent in the 114-105 victory Feb. 21.
While the Celtics will try to get their defense back on track, they will also be looking to improve on some inconsistencies at home. They are 21-12 at TD Garden this season after going 35-6 in 2008-09.
It won't be easy though. Boston's first five games of this homestand are against Western Conference teams before it closes the stretch against East-leading Cleveland on April 4. The Celtics have won their last three games at home and eight of 12.
Denver, meanwhile, comes in trying to avoid a third consecutive loss after falling 109-104 to the Knicks on Tuesday.
It was the eighth straight game Adrian Dantley coached the Nuggets, who announced that George Karl will not return until April as he continues treatment for throat cancer. Denver is 5-3 in those games.
Carmelo Anthony scored 36 points and Chauncey Billups had 25, but the Nuggets allowed the Knicks to close the third quarter on an 11-0 run and never recovered.
It was a tough way to open a five-game road trip for the Nuggets, especially since it now becomes more difficult. Their next four opponents are playoff contenders, and they won't face a team with a losing record until a home game against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 3.
"I think this is probably our most disappointing loss this season because it just means so much," Billups said.
Denver is tied with Dallas for the No. 2 seed in the West, and it has a one-game lead over Utah in the Northwest. Monday's loss dropped the Nuggets below .500 on the road (17-18).
Kenyon Martin missed his ninth consecutive game with patella tendinitis. He remains day to day.