March 14, 2010 in Sports

Boston tries to align stars

Celtics veterans focused on playoffs
Tom Enlund Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
 
Associated Press photo

Doc Rivers’ Celtics have been banged up and inconsistent throughout the season.
(Full-size photo)

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers doesn’t spend much time these days perusing the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings.

At least the upper portion of the standings.

“I rarely look at where we are as far as the top four,” Rivers said during the Celtics’ visit to the Bradley Center last week. “We’re three or four, whatever – that will play itself out. But I do look at the teams (we might play in the first round of the playoffs). I do focus on that.

“Starting about now, you start watching all the teams that are in the five, six, seven, eight spots because you can play one of those teams. But I never look at the top four. That’s going to be (determined by) how we play.”

The Celtics have not been playing well of late and have plenty of wrinkles to iron out as the Eastern Conference standings take shape.

Rivers does not hesitate to answer “health” when asked what the team’s top priority is for the stretch run. Injuries, Rivers said, have led to a continuity issue the Celtics have been dealing with this season.

Add in some bad home-court losses, looking to get Ray Allen some shots, and trying to get Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to improve their level of play, and it’s easy to see the Celtics have plenty on their to-do list in the final weeks of the season.

First and foremost, though, Rivers says he’d like to see the team get healthy. Garnett has battled a right-knee injury and Pierce has had a variety of aches and pains.

“Health is the No. 1 priority for us,” said Rivers. “And then, the second is continuity. We haven’t had a great year as far as having the team together. We really haven’t. When our starting lineup is intact, our record is as good as anybody’s in the NBA.”

Trying to establish some home-court advantage for the playoffs has become a serious issue for the Celtics. In recent home games, they lost to Cleveland by 20, lost to lowly New Jersey, beat Washington by three and lost by 20 to Memphis in a game after which Rivers called his team “awful.”

The Celtics got booed by the locals during the Memphis game, and the Garden was pretty much cleared by game’s end.

What’s the answer at home?

“I wish I could figure it out,” said Rivers. “I could probably sell it and do well.”

Said Allen, “I think we played our best basketball starting the season off and we haven’t gotten back to that level. We’ve been fighting to get back there.”

Yes, the Celtics have plenty to straighten out before the playoffs, but they still have time to do so. If they don’t, it could be short playoff run for the Green.

“We talk about what we want to do,” said Rivers. “But we’ve got to show it at some point.”

Howard advises Rose

Orlando center Dwight Howard said that over all-star weekend he gave Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose some advice on how to drive the lane and not get hurt.

Rose received a wrist injury when he was knocked down by Howard on a drive down the lane in a game last week. Earlier this season, Rose received a hip injury when Howard sent him tumbling on a similar play. Howard said he advised Rose to jump off both feet instead of one.

“I talked to him during the all-star break and told him, ‘If you come down the lane, always come on two feet,’ ” said Howard. “That way you’ll be on balance. If you come off one, all it takes is somebody’s body to hit you the wrong way and you’re going to fall.”

Billups’ two cents

Denver guard Chauncey Billups said the decline of the Pistons in Detroit is “sad.”

Billups contends that Pistons management, when trading him to Denver in 2008, did not think Billups would do as well as he has in Denver or that the Pistons would plummet as badly as they have since then.

“When I was there we embodied the city of Detroit,” said Billups. “Tough and rugged, so the city got behind us. We hung our hats on stopping teams and offense just kind of happened. You just don’t see that same commitment. You don’t see that desire with the team that they have right now.”

Driving the bus

New York Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh denies he accompanied the team on its current five-game trip to evaluate the coaching staff. Instead, he says he is traveling to evaluate players.

Coach Mike D’Antoni has been under fire for the Knicks’ performance the past two seasons even though the team was built mainly to clear salary-cap space for this summer’s free agency. D’Antoni added that there will be no changes among his assistants either.

“We’re not throwing anybody under the bus,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Nash needed rest

No one benefited more from the Phoenix Suns’ light schedule last week – five days without playing a game – more than point guard Steve Nash. In late January, he strained his abdomen, which led to some back problems. His back continued to bother him into February, especially during a hectic time when he made an appearance at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and then joined in on all-star weekend in Dallas the next morning.

Nash said he is now trying to “retrain my muscles to move in the proper sequence.”

Send no flowers

It had appeared the San Antonio Spurs were finally getting their act together, winning four straight games, including a couple on the road.

But then disaster hit as point guard Tony Parker suffered a broken bone in his right hand.

It’s uncertain when Parker will return, but the hope is he will be able to play a couple of games at the end of the regular season.


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