Celtics undefeated against division opponents -- so far

Jim Fenton

After winning only seven games against their division opponents a year ago, the Boston Celtics have already exceeded that number this season.

The Celtics are off to an 8-0 start against the four other teams in the Atlantic Division, defeating the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets three times each and the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks once.

Beginning tonight, the Celtics play three straight games against teams from their division as they bid to continue that dominance.

The Celtics meet the 76ers at the TD Banknorth Garden (7:35, TV: Comcast SportsNet; radio: WEEI-850 AM), travel to New York to face the Knicks on Monday afternoon and close out the season series with the Raptors at home next Wednesday. 

It is likely that point guard Rajon Rondo will miss the game with the Sixers in order to rest his ailing back and hamstring.

With a 31-6 record, the Celtics are running away with the Atlantic Division, owning an 11-game lead over the Raptors (21-18) with the Nets (18-20) trailing by 13 1-2 games.

In the past nine seasons, only the 2005-06 Nets (11 games over the Sixers) won the Atlantic Division by double digits.

The Celtics are the only team in the league without a loss against a division opponent, and they have eight games to go against the Raptors, Nets, Knicks and Sixers.

Boston has won the division only once since the retirement of Larry Bird in 1992, and that was in Coach Doc Rivers' first season. The Celtics were 45-37 in 2004-05 to finish two games ahead of the 76ers, only to lose in the first round of the playoff to the Indiana Pacers.

The Sixers arrive in Boston with eight losses in their last 10 games to fall to 15-24, just ahead of the last-place but surging Knicks. Philly has more road wins (going 8-13) than home victories (7-11).         

Rondo, who did not play against the Washington Wizards last Saturday or the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, did not practice Thursday afternoon.

With Rondo out, rookie Gabe Pruitt moved into the rotation for a 12-minute stint against the Trail Blazers. Pruitt, a second-round draft pick, had played 26 minutes in seven games before that.  

Eddie House and Tony Allen have been sharing minutes as the backup to Rondo, and Rivers will use this opportunity to get a look at Pruitt.

"He's played the position more than the other two guys,'' said Rivers. "We're just hoping he'll come in and be comfortable at the spot. I'm sure this is a tough spot for him, just throwing him in there. You've got to start some time.''

News and notes

The NBA announced this week Kevin Garnett's jersey as well as Celtics' merchandise are the leading sellers. Garnett was not even on the list last season after being No. 16 at the end of the 2005-06 season. Paul Pierce is now 12th … The Celtics will take Saturday off, practice Sunday, then depart that afternoon for New York. The game with the Knicks is a matinee on Martin Luther King Day.

The Enterprise