Celtics limp home to face 76ers

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics, coming off a long-distance four-game road trip and battling injuries and illness, are liable to be a bit weary when they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.

But you can be sure of one thing: The home team won't be making any guarantees of a win over the visitors.

Monday night, spurred by a guarantee of victory by Charlotte's Nicolas Batum, the suddenly competitive Sixers won their third game in a row, winning at Charlotte.

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"Everybody pays attention to that stuff," said Gerald Henderson, a former Hornet now with Philadelphia. "It's not the first guarantee that has ever been issued, but I thought it was something some guys on our team would look at and use it in the game."

So, he texted his teammates, who went out and won without the injured Joel Embiid and with an apparently-close-to-being-traded Jahlil Okafor not on the trip.

The Sixers outrebounding the Hornets 51-33.

"They worked us over," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. "I didn't realize it was that bad. Tonight it was in the high pick-and-roll game. (T.J.) McConnell was really good tonight. He hit the biggest shot in the game. Some of it was rebounding, but a lot of it was our inability to keep it out of the paint."

The last time the Celtics played the franchise's long-time rival, Boston won Jan. 6 and Philadelphia fell to 9-25. But the Sixers are 12-9 since, and that includes five straight losses before matching their season high with three straight wins.

In other words, they're better.

Ben Simmons, the top pick in the last NBA draft, hasn't made his debut, which could come by the end of the month as he completes his comeback from a broken foot.

The Celtics, 2 1/2 games behind the Cavaliers (with Kevin Love set to miss six weeks with knee surgery), opened their trip with a horrible loss at Sacramento. The Kings beat Boston without DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.

But the Celtics reeled off wins at Portland, Utah and Dallas, the first two without starters Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.

"We're always looking forward, and that's the team ahead of us," Isaiah Thomas said Monday night. "So my sights are definitely on Cleveland."

Crowder, who went home for a family emergency, was back Monday night in Dallas, but rookie Jaylen Brown suffered a hip pointer at Utah and was out Monday and will miss the two games prior to the All-Star break. Bradley won't be back until then, either.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, a former Celtic, said he thinks Boston has a real shot of making it to the NBA Finals.

"They've got a legitimate shot to get to the Finals with that team out of the East," Carlisle said. "It's a very good basketball team, so when you're playing a team on that level, you've just gotta be on it from the very beginning."

The Celtics (36-19) won 10 of their last 11, with little big man Thomas continuing to lead the way. Thomas can tie John Havlicek's team record with his 40th straight 20-point game Wednesday. In fact, he has one game all year with less than 20, and he had 18 in that one.

"We would love to go 4-0 (on the trip), but things happened," said Marcus Smart, a starter with Bradley out (strained Achilles). "But we bounced back. That's what good teams do. We're becoming a very, very great team."

The Celtics lead the season series 2-0.