Winning streak over, Celtics head to Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. -- If there is a surprise team in the NBA's Eastern Conference this season, it is the Boston Celtics, who have won seven of eight games going into a Thursday night matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center.

Boston (33-19), which owns the second-best record in the East behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, is led by point guard Isaiah Thomas, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January and Player of the Week for Jan. 30 to Feb. 5).

The 5-foot-9 Thomas averaged 32.9 points and 6.9 assists in January. It was the highest monthly scoring average ever for a Boston guard; the only Celtics who ever exceeded it for a month were Larry Bird and Paul Pierce.

Over the past 25 games, Thomas has scored at least 30 points 14 times, more than 40 points five times and at least 50 once. He has eclipsed the 20-point barrier in 36 straight games and ranks second in the league in scoring with a 29.9 average.

Should Thomas be a Most Valuable Player Award candidate along with the likes of James Harden and Russell Westbrook?

"I don't know about all that stuff," said Danny Ainge, in his 14th season as Boston's president of basketball operations. "Let's wait until the end of the season. But Isaiah is having a fantastic year, no doubt about that."

The Celtics -- whose seven-game win streak ended with a 108-92 loss at Sacramento on Wednesday night -- have been one of the best stories in the NBA thus far this season.

"I'd say it's a surprise, just because of all the health issues we've had," Ainge told the Portland Tribune. "We've had just about everybody out for multiple games at some point. We haven't had the whole team together for many games. But the guys have played hard and somehow been able to maintain a good record and find ways to win games. It's been fun."

During the offseason, Ainge signed Al Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract. The veteran center is averaging 15 points and 6.8 rebounds and leads the NBA's post men with an average of 5.2 assists.

"Al has been terrific," Ainge said. "He's been great with his spacing on offense and his communication on defense. He's as true a pro as you can have, the way he approaches his work. He has helped us win games in every imaginable way."

Then there is small forward Jae Crowder, who is averaging 14 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3-point range.

"Jae has had a fantastic year," Ainge said. "He provides versatility at the defensive end, and he has been a very efficient, great-shooting small forward who moves to the '4' on occasion."

The Blazers (23-30) are coming off one of their most exciting victories of the year, a 114-113 thriller at Dallas on Tuesday in which CJ McCollum's runner in the key with three-10ths of a second left was the game-winner.

However, Portland lost forward Evan Turner, who broke his right hand in the third quarter against the Mavericks. Turner, who ran into Harrison Barnes' elbow going around a screen, will be out for five to six weeks, though the injury won't require surgery.

"It didn't feel like crazy pain," Turner said. "Just felt numb a little bit, but I couldn't take a grip with it."