INDEPENDENCE: A surprising first half has positioned the Cavaliers within striking distance of the playoffs, but they’re going to need a fast start to the second half of the season.

The two teams directly in front of them in the standings are the next two teams on the schedule. The Cavs conclude this monstrous nine-game homestand by hosting the Boston Celtics tonight, then travel to New York on Wednesday to face the Knicks.

The Cavs will play four games in the next five nights, which is to be expected since they only played 31 games prior to the All-Star break. That’s the fewest amount of games in the Eastern Conference and tied for the second-fewest in the NBA. Their 18 losses ties them with the Knicks, who hold the seventh seed in the East, and is one more loss than the Celtics.

“I think we all know the importance of these next two games,” Antawn Jamison said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to where we have a chance. Now we have to take advantage of that chance.”

For the first time in nearly a month, the Cavs could be at full strength tonight. Anthony Parker has missed the last four weeks with a strained back and hasn’t played since the Cavs played at Boston on Jan. 29. Parker went through his first full-court, intense practice since suffering the injury on Monday night. Whether or not he plays will be determined by how he feels today. Coach Byron Scott didn’t rule out starting him right away, either, despite him missing so much time.

“It might be best to start him, because once I take him out he might be done for the half,” Scott said. “It’s a conversation I’ll definitely have with him. If he feels he can play and he’s ready, then the next conversation is do you feel best to start or come off the bench? Either way, his minutes are going to be limited.”

The Celtics haven’t been at full strength for either of their meetings against the Cavs. All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo missed both games against the Cavs last month with a wrist injury. He was suspended for the final two games before the All-Star break for throwing a ball at an official.

“They’re a much better team than when we played them,” Kyrie Irving said, referring to Rondo’s return. “I’m looking forward to playing him.”

Rising star

Scott did not watch Irving’s Most Valuable Player performance in the Rising Stars game, but caught highlights of his 34-point night, which included making all eight of his 3-point attempts.

“The first thing I said was, ‘Damn, why couldn’t he go 8-for-8 the night before?” Scott joked. Irving shot 2-of-13 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts in Thursday’s loss to the New Orleans Hornets.

“I think he’s been a well-kept secret through the first half,” Scott said. “Each week he gets a little more notoriety. That game let everyone in the nation know why we definitely took him with the No. 1 pick.”

Irving soaked in the entire experience and hopes to return next season in Houston.

“I really enjoyed myself,” he said. “Best weekend of my life so far.”

Magic honored

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was honored during Sunday’s All-Star Game on the 20th anniversary of his return to the NBA following his HIV-positive diagnosis. Scott was a teammate and close friend with the Los Angeles Lakers when Johnson told his teammates he contracted the virus. Scott said Monday he burst out in tears when Johnson first told his teammates.

“I thought like most of the world thought, when you contract the HIV virus it was a death sentence,” Scott said. “My first thought was I was losing a friend, he wouldn’t be here much longer.

“But one of the last things he said in the locker room was he was going to beat it. As competitive as he is, he’s definitely defied all the odds and is living a pretty healthy life and doing a lot of great things, especially in the African-American communities. Now when I see him, I look at him like this guy is probably going to outlive me.”

Jason Lloyd can be reached at jlloyd@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at Follow him on Twitter at Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at Jason Lloyd can be reached at jlloyd@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://cavs.ohio.com Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.