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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

No layoff payoff here

Loss follows this three-day break

SAN ANTONIO -- It felt a little like returning to school after summer vacation. After all, the Celtics could not remember receiving another three-day non-All-Star break during the regular season. The players and coaches reconvened at shootaround yesterday morning and waited until game time to see what benefit, if any, the layoff produced.

Apparently, the break didn't work, as the Spurs beat the Celtics, 107-90.

While 36-year-old point guard Gary Payton can use whatever rest the schedule affords, the younger players may have suffered some.

"There was no right answer either way," said coach Doc Rivers about giving the team the time off. "Damned if you do. Damned if you don't. The thinking behind it was we had just come off a horrific trip [to the West Coast]. No one had any time at home. Then we had three days and another trip.

"I just thought the break was needed. I actually had gone the other way. I consulted [executive director of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] on this one. Everyone thought the break was the right thing. If we had been a veteran team, it would have been an easy decision . . ."

The players were not complaining.

"It's beautiful," said Ricky Davis. "Any time you get three days off in the NBA, it's fun. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it might not. It does make you more mentally fresh, and physically."

LaFrentz is back
Raef LaFrentz returned to the starting lineup, recovered from the sprained left ankle he suffered Dec. 21 in Miami. But the power forward joked that defending Tim Duncan was not part of the doctor's orders.

"It's good enough to play," said LaFrentz, who had 10 points. "I hope I'm not limited. I've only got Tim Duncan out there. I hope I'll be all right. The swelling is pretty much down. It's not really as sore as it was. I rolled it all the way over, but I've had so many sprained ankles that they're all stretched out anyway."

Duncan was held to 14 points, although he added 11 rebounds.

LaFrentz convinced Rivers he was ready to play by making shots in shootaround.

"Whenever a player has an ankle injury, I always look at his shot, because that's where you can really find out because of his balance," said Rivers. "Your balance is all in your feet. If you're leaning to your left, because you're off balance, that means you're favoring your ankle. His shots went in [yesterday] morning, so I felt he was pretty good."

Rookie Tony Allen came back from the break reporting a sore and bruised back, and before the game Rivers indicated it might have been serious. But Allen checked in during the second quarter and ended up with 2 points in 13 minutes.

Say what?
With 4:13 remaining in the fourth, a double personal foul was called on Manu Ginobili and Davis. Ginobili was called for a block and Davis was called for a charge. The referees could not come to an agreement, so they decided on a jump ball at midcourt. "I have not [seen that]," said Rivers. "That was a doozy. I didn't know what that was about. Things weren't going our way. We kind of knew that it'd be a bad toss and they'd get the ball and that's about what it was." . . . Payton on the reports that Karl Malone will come to play for the Spurs this season: "He's a great teammate. He's a great person. So, if he comes here, it would be a big plus for [the Spurs]. He would be a great man to get in here and he can still play. It would increase [the Spurs'] chances for a championship."

Which end up?
The Spurs entered the game first in the league in opponents' points per game (85.0) and opponents' field goal percentage (41 percent). Those numbers put Rivers in a defensive mood before the game. "For us, it's defense," said Rivers. "We've proven we can score, though no one can score against the Spurs. But I've always believed you have to defend a defender. I said it before the Finals last year. I thought the way you beat Detroit is you defend Detroit. You don't try to outscore Detroit. They're going to play defense. If you try to come in and outscore a defensive team, you usually don't win. If you get stops, then your offense gets a lot better." . . . The Celtics have not defeated the Spurs in the Duncan era, and Boston has not won in San Antonio since Feb. 14, 1990. The Spurs' last loss at the FleetCenter was Jan. 8, 1997. "The odds are on our side at some point," said Rivers. "At some point, we have to break the streak." . . . Rivers spent two seasons playing for the Spurs, averaging 4.4 points and 2.0 assists. He also spent two seasons as an analyst for the team's broadcasts. 

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