BOSTON — We're a little more than a week into the month of February and the Celtics (18-33) have won more games (3) than they did in the entire month of January (2-15).
And while a steadily improving Rajon Rondo has certainly been a key to the team's reversal of fortunes, even more significant has been the Celtics' play defensively.
That defense will face a stiff challenge tonight against the high-scoring Dallas Mavericks.
"Right now I don't know where they stand in the West," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "But if you re-seed based on the last two weeks or month, they'd be up there with the best in the West. It's going to be a heck of a challenge for us."
The Mavericks offense ranks seventh in the NBA in points per game (104.6) and has won four in a row. Meanwhile the Celtics are tied for ninth in fewest points allowed (95.3) in Boston's last three games.
Rondo, who is questionable to play tonight, isn't making too big a deal out of Boston's recent success.
"It's three games," he said. "We're playing for another, but at the end of the day we're getting stops when we need them."
Here are some other keys to tonight's game:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Establishing an inside game will again be huge for the Celtics. Jared Sullinger has been strong of late, but lost in his success has been the play of Brandon Bass whose inside scoring has also been an important element to the Celtics' latest run of success.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jeff Green vs Shawn Marion
With Sullinger dominating the paint and Rondo running the offense, Green has been able to fall into more of a supporting cast role and has responded with strong numbers. In Boston's last three games, he has averaged 20.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. But tonight, Green's ability to box out on rebounds will be a factor because Marion isn't just one of the best rebounding small forwards in the game. He's one of NBA's all-time leaders in rebounding, period.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sullinger continues to establish himself as a force for Boston, and these are the kind of games that can only cement that growth. He has had a double-double in four straight games, and a fifth straight would go far in Boston's efforts to keep their winning streak alive.
STAT TO TRACK: Dallas is one of the best at getting off to fast starts in the NBA this season. The Mavericks average 27.4 points in the first quarter, the second-highest average of any team in the first quarter of play. And the Celtics have had their share of problems to start games, giving up 23.6 points per game in the first quarter which is the fifth-highest average in the NBA.