SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Led by a man they call Isaiah, the Boston Celtics are playing the kind of intense, consistent, winning basketball that has elevated them into a championship contender in the Eastern Conference.
It's a brand of basketball the Sacramento Kings only dream of playing.
The Celtics (33-18) bring a seven-game winning streak into their game Wednesday night against Sacramento (20-32) at the Golden 1 Center -- their longest run since February 2013. The Kings try for their third home win in the last 12 games but must do so without forward DeMarcus Cousins, their franchise player who will serve a one-game suspension.
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The game kicks off a four-game Western Conference trip for Boston and is the first of seven on the road it will play in its next eight games. Boston is 14-10 away from home this season and plays nine of its last 17 road games against the Western Conference.
As usual, point guard Isaiah Thomas will be their guiding force. Thomas, who played in Sacramento for three seasons before the Kings traded him for Alex Oriakhi (a player who still has never has played in the league) in July 2014, is averaging a career-best 29.9 points a game -- second only to NBA scoring leader Russell Westbrook (30.9) -- and also is sixth in 3-pointers made (150), and 13th in assists (6.4).
He also scored 20 points in 34 straight games and averages an NBA-best 10.7 points in the fourth quarter. In the winning streak, Thomas averaged 35.3 points and 7.4 assists while making 30 of 74 3-pointers, leading former Celtics great Paul Pierce, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, last week to tell reporters Thomas is "easily the best point guard in the Eastern Conference."
The Celtics have risen with him. They were 2 1/2 games back of the Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division and 4 1/2 behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top spot in the East when they lost Jan. 24. Seven games later, they lead the Raptors by two games and gained two on the Cavaliers in the race for the East's top seed..
Meanwhile, his former team continues to spin its wheels. The Kings rode the momentum of an overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors by falling behind 20-5 and 82-55 in an eventual 107-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday. That loss gave them eight in their past 10 home games. Sacramento hasn't won consecutive games at home since December.
"It was pretty ugly for a large point," Kings coach Dave Joerger said of the loss. "We have to be really on point right from the jump."
Cousins' absense emphasizes that point even more. Sacramento's leading scorer (27.9 points, fourth in the NBA) and rebounder (10.7, 11th) picked up two more technical fouls against the Bulls, giving him an NBA-worst 16 and an automatic one-game suspension without pay.
The league also announced that it fined him $25,000 for making inappropriate comments following his ejection with 1.1 seconds left in the loss to Chicago.
He or coach Dave Joerger will be suspended a game for every two technical fouls Cousins receives the rest of the way..
The Kings already are playing without forwards Rudy Gay (season-ending Achilles' injury) and Omri Casspi (calf pull), and guard Garrett Temple (hamstring) until after the All-Star break.
Boston guard Avery Bradley (Achilles), whose missed 14 of the last 15 games, will not make the trip, according to the Boston Globe.