Celtics will have extra incentive against Lakers

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BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics will try to send their coach to the NBA All-Star Game with a home win on Friday night over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Celtics' 109-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night featuring Isaiah Thomas' latest fourth-quarter dynamics gave Boston a 1 1/2-game lead over Toronto atop the Atlantic Division.

The win also gave Celtics coach Brad Stevens the lead for the spot in New Orleans.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but Tyronne Lue can't coach the All-Stars because he did it last year.

So the leader between Boston and Toronto after Sunday's games sends its coach to guide the All-Stars.

"That would be amazing," Thomas said when asked about Stevens. "To come from where (the Celtics were) when he first got here, to a few years later to coaching in the All-Star game, like, I don't think anybody thought it would happen that fast.

"Hopefully, we can get it. I mean, we have to take care of these next few games. And hopefully we can get our coaching staff in it."

If Thomas has anything to do with it, he and the coaches will all be going. Thomas, named the NBA player of the month in January, has 85 points in the last two games -- 43 of those in the two fourth quarters as the Celtics ran off their fourth and fifth straight wins to go to 31-18.

Now trailing the Cavs by just 2 1/2 games for the conference top spot, the Celtics play the third game of a four-game homestand against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.

LA dropped its 11th straight road game in a loss at Washington that opened a five-game trip on Thursday night.

The Lakers cast an eye toward their future by bringing back a major piece of their past Thursday, with Magic Johnson joining the front office as an assistant to owner Jeanie Buss.

"Everyone knows my love for the Lakers," Johnson said. "Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities, however my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice.

"I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA."

By the way, the latest win allowed the Celtics to tie the Lakers for most career NBA victories with 3,252 (Boston has played two more seasons).

Thomas notched his 33rd straight 20-point game as he continues to close in on John Havlicek's franchise record of 40 (November 1971-January 1972). He has had only one game all season below 20, and he had 18 in that one.

In the last 12 home games, Thomas has 440 points in 433 minutes -- and he has raised his season scoring average to 29.7 points per game.

On Thursday, he was rewarded for his January, when he averaged 32.9 points and 6.9 assists per game, shooting 49.7 percent from the floor, 43.2 percent from 3-point range and 94.1 percent from the foul line. He is the first Celtic player of the month since Paul Pierce in 2012.

Thomas will also take part in the skills competition during All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

Thomas' starting backcourt mate, Avery Bradley, missed his eighth straight game with a sore Achilles on Wednesday night but also advanced to day-to-day status, which left him possible for Friday. He has actually played in only one of the last 13 games because of the injury.

The Lakers (17-35) have lost four of their last five and also fell to 5-22 on the road.

"It's tough when you fly across country like that and you kind of expect some early sloppiness and then you expect the guys to clean it up," Lakers coach Luke Walton said after Thursday night's game. "I think it took a little too long to clean it up, but I was proud the way we came back in the second half."