By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Strong defense has the Boston Celtics on the brink of their longest winning streak of the season, and now they're getting Rajon Rondo back from his latest suspension.
Kevin Garnett may be just looking to move past a feisty incident.
With Rondo back, the Celtics attempt to open a season-high five-game homestand by sending the struggling Phoenix Suns to their longest road losing streak in 29 years Wednesday night.
Boston (17-17) is on its second three-game winning streak of the season, and this one is being spurred by holding opponents to an average of 84.0 points and 37.6 percent shooting.
The Celtics may be getting an offensive lift with the return of Rondo, the NBA's leader with 11.3 assists per game.
The All-Star guard, however, has been plagued by four suspensions over the past two seasons - two in 2012-13. The most recent was issued after he made contact with a referee during Saturday's 89-81 win at Atlanta, and failed to cooperate with a league investigation.
Rondo had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against the Hawks for his second triple-double of the season.
Boston didn't seem to miss him Monday, beating Atlantic Division-leading New York 102-96 while hitting 52.7 percent from the floor.
"The best thing is that we got the win," Rondo told the team's official website. "It's our first time we've gotten three wins in a row (actually the second) so we've got to build on that."
Garnett is looking to build on his 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Knicks, but it wasn't his production that put him in the limelight. While battling with Carmelo Anthony, the two stars had a heated exchange that Anthony wanted to continue after the game. He tried to follow the Celtics off the court, and was caught by cameras waiting for Garnett near the team bus.
"Listen, heat of the battle, man. Guys go back and forth. He's trying to get his team to go, I'm trying to get my team to go, both teams are colliding, not to mention that it's the Knicks and the Celtics," Garnett said. "Just what it is, man."
Garnett is averaging 24.6 points and 11.8 boards over his last 17 meetings with the Suns (12-24), but he was held to 10 and five while going 5 of 13 from the floor in a 79-71 home loss Jan. 20. That marked the only meeting last season, and Rondo missed it with a sprained right wrist.
Boston has dropped four of the last five meetings with Phoenix, but the Suns enter this matchup with a 2-15 road record and are in the midst of their longest slide as a visitor since 1985. They opened a four-game trip by extending their current road losing streak to 10 games with Tuesday's 108-99 defeat at Milwaukee, and haven't dropped 11 in a row away from Phoenix since a 14-game slide from Jan. 3-Feb. 17, 1984.
"We can't play 40 minutes, 42 minutes or 38-minute games where we play pretty good and give ourselves an opportunity and then let it deteriorate away over a four- or five-minute period," coach Alvin Gentry said. "That's kind of how our season has gone, really. We've just got to find a way to get better. The season is slipping away."
Goran Dragic was a bright spot for the Suns on Tuesday, getting 21 points after mustering nine in a 92-81 home loss to Memphis two days prior. The guard hasn't been much of a factor in seven career meetings with the Celtics, averaging 4.7 points while getting 11 at Boston in a loss with Houston on March 6.
Updated January 9, 2013