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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

An opportunity lost

O'Neal out; team can't capitalize

MIAMI -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers knew a Shaq-less Miami team still could be formidable, but he regarded this game as a lost opportunity regardless.

"We got completely outworked," Rivers said after his team's 108-100 loss to the Heat last night. "It's my fault. If the guys are not ready, it's my fault. We had a golden opportunity to win tonight without Shaq and we did not take advantage of it."

One major problem was his team's inability to deal with Dwyane Wade, who had 33 points, 11 assists, 4 steals, and many non-box score moments of greatness. Rivers really had no one to guard the uncategorizable Wade, who has point guard attributes but cannot be labeled a point guard. Wade is just a Basketball Player.

"I just tried to come out and give my teammates the ball," he said. "I really tried to open it up and get good shots for everybody, and that opened it up for me."

That about sums it up.

Milestone game
Miami trainer Ron Culp was honored in a pregame ceremony for reaching the 2,700-game milestone Sunday night against Orlando. Culp is in his 34th year, and both the numbers 2,700 and 34 are records for trainers. Culp began his career with the then-expansion Portland Trail Blazers in 1970 . . . Is it any longer big news to report that Al Jefferson had a good game, with 15 points and 9 rebounds? . . . How does Miami really expect to compete with just four (4) assistant coaches?. A really serious team, like the Celtics, for example, has six . . . The Celtics outrebounded the Heat, 36-35, with 12 offensive rebounds to Miami's 11, but Rivers will never believe it . . . The teams scored 119 points in the first half, with only five threes between them . . . No word for sure on when Shaq returns, but a betting man would say he might be feeling better by the time the team hits Staples Center Christmas Day . . . Here's an upset. Miami coach Stan Van Gundy was happy with the win, but he did say that "I like it better when [O'Neal] is in the game."

It was Shaq's first DNP of the season.

Sins or wins?
The Heat are 11-3 at home. A lot of people wonder why it isn't 14-0.

"People say, `Who do you have to stop first? Shaq or [Dwyane] Wade?"' said Rivers. "I say, `South Beach.' "

Forget Los Angeles. Miami is the reigning Sin City stop on the contemporary NBA tour. Players come down here and suddenly there are a few things on their mind other than basketball.

"I love looking at the box scores of teams that have been in town the night before the game," says one local media observer. "You'll see star players with 4 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist."

And that's after one night. The Celtics had two.

Rivers knows what's what, not being all that far removed from his playing days. He's very well aware of the South Beach effect, but at the same time, he didn't sign on to be a baby-sitter, either. He knows boys will be boys, but he was counting on his to exercise some common sense.

"We arrived here from Cleveland about 2 o'clock, Saturday night/Sunday morning," he said. "I said, `Boys, you're on your own.' I gave them off on Sunday. But we had a very good, hard practice on Monday, and it was hard because of the circumstances. I was very pleased with what I saw."

Rivers said problems can ensue any time a cold-weather team visits a warm-weather place in the winter.

"I played most of my career in what you'd have to call warm-weather places [Atlanta and San Antonio, with a New York thrown in], and it really is different," he said. "You just feel more like being outside and doing stuff. I remember once when I was with Atlanta and we were in LA. Scott Hastings got sunburned, and he couldn't even put his uniform on because it was irritating him. I thought [coach] Mike Fratello was going to lose his mind."

Not looking ahead
The local papers are full of copy concerning the much-anticipated Heat Christmas Day clash with the Lakers. But Van Gundy was equally concerned with last night's game and Thursday night's contest. That's only a little stopover in Sacramento. "I'm tired of answering questions about Saturday," Van Gundy said with a growl. "It could be one of those relationship shows on afternoon TV. Shaq and Kobe. It's sad. It should be about the basketball. Tonight's a big game. Thursday's a huge game. Saturday's game is hype." . . . Before the game, Rivers said he likes what he's seen of his team of late. "I like the way we are getting up and down the floor and sharing the ball," he said. "We play hard. We compete. Our Achilles' heel is rebounding." . . . With their average of 100 points per game entering last night, the Heat are scoring at a higher rate than any Miami team since the 1994-95 edition, a 32-50 squad coached by Kevin Loughery . . . Van Gundy credits most of the improved scoring to the presence of Shaq. "This isn't taking anything away from the other guys, because the other guys are playing well," the coach told the Miami Herald. "But it's basically Shaq, because it's much easier to create good shots. Getting a good shot is not a chore." . . . Eddie Jones, the 11-year veteran from Temple, is the subject of nonstop trade rumors . . . Guard Damon Jones is on team No. 9 in his seven-year odyssey. He was with the Celtics in the '98-99 season. 

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