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Nets spoil Pierce's return as Celtics lose 17th straight

BOSTON -- It was too much to expect that having Paul Pierce back on the floor would get the Celtics back on track.

The Celtics lost their 17th straight game Friday. The good news in Boston? The NBA's all-time worst losing streak is still seven games from being touched. Here are the league's top losing streaks:

Streak

Team

Season

*24

Cavaliers

March 1982-
November 1982

23

Grizzlies

February 1996-
April 1996

23

Nuggets

December 1997-January 1998

*21

Pistons

March 1980-
October 1980

*-- streak spanned two seasons

The bad news? Six of the Celtics' next seven games are on the road, including a brutal five-game western swing. And if it gets that far, Boston's Feb. 28 game with the Knicks could be a record-buster. The Celtics' next eight games:

Opp.

Date

Opp. W-L

@ Wolves

Feb. 11

23-26

Bucks

Feb. 14

19-30

@ Kings

Feb. 20

20-26

@ Suns

Feb. 21

39-10

@ Lakers

Feb. 23

30-19

@ Jazz

Feb. 24

32-17

@ Rockets

Feb. 26

31-17

Knicks

Feb. 28

22-28

Vince Carter scored 21 points, Jason Kidd had 13 points and nine assists and the New Jersey Nets spoiled Pierce's return with a 92-78 victory over Boston on Friday night, extending the Celtics' franchise-record losing streak to 17.

Delonte West led the Celtics with 21 points, and Al Jefferson had 13 points and 17 rebounds. Boston, which has also lost 13 in a row at home, last won Jan. 5 in Memphis.

Pierce struggled in his first game since Dec. 20, scoring nine points on 4-of-16 shooting. He was held scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting in the first half and scored seven of his points in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach.

"I missed a couple of layups, stuff that I usually make," said Pierce, who added four rebounds in 20 minutes. "The first two times up and down the court, your adrenaline is flowing and you want things to happen so fast. You feel like you can come back and do the things you could before you got injured. But I'm patient and I'm mentally strong, and I'm going to get through it."

Pierce missed 24 games with a stress reaction in his left foot and an infection in his left elbow. He was supposed to return earlier this week, but the infection delayed his return. After spending two nights in the hospital following a surgical procedure to relieve the swelling, Pierce was released Thursday.

The Celtics went 2-22 without Pierce, and his return did little to change Boston's fortunes. The Celtics shot 35 percent from the field and never led.

"I don't think anybody on this team -- including him -- thought he was going to come out tonight and have one of those All-Star nights," Jefferson said. "But I think just by him being on the court with us put us on a whole other level. When we do get him back and get his groove going I really believe we will be a better team."

Reserve Marcus Williams added 17 points for the Nets, who won their second straight following a four-game losing streak.

New Jersey had lost by two points or less in five of its previous 10 games but outscored Boston 27-17 in the third quarter to make sure this game didn't come down to the wire.

"I think the emphasis was to ignore the score and just worry about this play and when that play is over, go on to the next play," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "I think sometimes our struggle has been getting a little bit comfortable and losing focus when we have a lead."

After Boston went on an 11-0 run spanning the second and third quarters to erase 42-31 deficit and tie it, Carter scored seven during a 17-4 New Jersey run that gave the Nets control.

The Nets' surge started with an 8-0 run. They then followed Jefferson's hook with a 9-2 spurt to blow it open. Kidd assisted on Antoine Wright's off-balance layup in traffic to make it 59-46 with 4:19 left in the third.

After missing his first eight shots, Pierce finally connected on a 17-foot jumper to pull Boston to 61-50 with 3:12 left in the third.

By then it was too late, and the Celtics never got within 10. New Jersey extended its lead to 69-56 by the end of the third quarter and led by as many as 20 in the fourth.

"Anytime your captain comes back you play with more energy," Kidd said. "This is a tough learning experience for them, but in the long run it will make them better."

Game notes
Celtics forward Wally Szczerbiak is out with a sprained left ankle. ... Boston is the only team other than New Jersey that Kidd has not recorded a triple-double against. ... The Celtics play six of their next seven games on the road. ... New Jersey's Mikki Moore set a career high by making nine free throws. Moore scored 11 points and was 9-of-10 from the line.