The Boston Celtics are showing glimpses of life and hope to ride the momentum of a stirring comeback when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
Boston has won three straight and five of its past six games after recovering from a 14-point deficit with 14-plus minutes to play to notch a 105-87 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. The Celtics finished the game with a dominating 40-8 run.
The stunning turnaround in the opener of a three-game road excursion also marked the third straight game in which Boston delivered a comeback victory.
"It's certainly going in the right direction," standout forward Jayson Tatum said of the recent performances. "We still have some things to improve on, but hopefully we can just continue to build off this."
Boston's season-long inconsistency has put it in position to where it needs a sustained hot streak to move up the Eastern Conference standings. Currently, the Celtics are battling to stay out of the play-in round.
Coach Brad Stevens is well aware of the challenges and was feeling positive vibes after the late-game spurt against a Denver squad that had won eight straight contests.
"All the good teams that I've been around can come back and win," Stevens said. "So you come back in each of the last three games and win, down in the fourth quarter in all the games, that's encouraging."
Boston will be facing a Portland squad that is dealing with its own issues after sustaining four losses in the past six games.
Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts bristled when a reporter said the team was in a funk after Sunday's 107-98 home loss to the Miami Heat, but regardless, the club isn't clicking on all cylinders. Portland's four setbacks during the stretch are by an average of 15.8 points.
"I thought we looked a step slow and they looked like a rested team," Stotts said after the loss to Miami. "I don't say that very often.
"We've got a real test against Boston. We will be ready for that one. They pose different problems."
Portland has dropped five of its last seven contests against the Celtics but the teams are meeting for the first time this season.
The Trail Blazers will surely need better shooting from their stellar backcourt. All-Star guard Damian Lillard had just 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting against the Heat while CJ McCollum had 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
Lillard's poor outing was his second in the past four games. He suffered through 2-of-14 shooting while scoring 11 points in a 133-116 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on April 6.
But against Miami, Lillard's play was far from the only problem area. Center Jusuf Nurkic said it simply -- "We should be better, there is no excuse." -- before expounding further.
"I understand the frustration with the fans and everybody, but sometimes it's frustrating for us too," Nurkic said. "I know the coaches, no matter what they tell us, they can't go out there and change it. I get that, everybody gets that, but at some point, something's got to happen."
And that's why Boston is encouraged -- something happened. The recent comeback wins have renewed hope that the Celtics will be back in top form when the playoffs arrive.
Tatum had 28 points and 10 rebounds against the Nuggets for this third straight double-double and 10th consecutive 20-point outing.
Of course, his best effort during the run came in Friday's 145-136 overtime win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves when he scored a career-best 53 points.
Tatum averaged 35 points and was 13 of 20 from 3-point range in Boston's two wins over Portland last season. Lillard had 30 points and matched his career best of 16 assists in the one game he played against the Celtics.
--Field Level Media