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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

A bit blue about the state of Green

Washington's Caron Butler punches the air (not Ryan Gomes's face) after the Celtic was called for one of his four personal fouls. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

Are we supposed to blame the dancers?

Sure, the Celtics have been devastated by injuries and Doc Rivers can put five guys on the floor who were born after Roger Clemens pitched his first game for the Red Sox. But a 4-17 record at home? Nine straight losses on the parquet? Gotta be the dancers, right?

The green Green lost their 11th straight overall last night, a 105-91 decision to the Washington Wizards. Boston plays in Indianapolis tomorrow night, then comes home to face the Lakers Wednesday and the Clippers Friday. If the Celtics drop the next two, they'll tie the franchise record for consecutive losses, which would put it all on the line Friday night against the Clips.

Appropriately enough, Friday is Groundhog Day -- which is exactly what every day feels like on Causeway Street in the hardcourt winter of 2006-07. Too bad we can't say there's only six more weeks of NBA basketball. The lottery can't come fast enough.

"They were just tougher," Rivers said last night. "We were soft. Losing has to bother you enough that you get so [ticked] off that you do something about it."

Nobody seems bothered. Not even the fans. A robust 17,269 trekked to the basketball barn and most of them seemed happy with the show -- even the few who didn't go home with a free T-shirt shot out of a toy cannon. It would be difficult to pinpoint precisely when "game presentation" became more important than "game," but clearly the Celtics have crossed this line and the Boston ballplayers and coaches should be thankful. The Celtics almost never win. Still, they feel the love. Very un-Boston-like.

Rivers singled out Delonte West (22 points, 11 assists) as one guy who played hard against the Wizards.

"I'm just going to point out one guy, that if I could have 12 of his hearts . . . and that would be Delonte West," said the coach. "We need more of that."

Not much argument in the losers' locker room.

"We've got to put out that extra effort, and in the second half we didn't do that," said Wally Szczerbiak, who scored 9 points in his first game since Jan. 7 (sprained right ankle).

Highlight-reel Gerald Green added, "We've just got to fight harder."

"I think they just wanted it more than us," said Ryan Gomes (20 points). "It looked like they were the team that lost 10 in a row instead of us being the ones that were scrapping and making those kinds of plays."

The Celtics have been playing without Paul Pierce since Dec. 21 (stress reaction, left foot), but there's little excuse for what we're seeing these days. This is starting to look like a return to the M.L. Carr days of 1996-97 (15-67). Hard to believe the Celtics were a playoff team two years ago.

Old-timers remember other bad patches, but they were usually short-lived. The bottom first fell out the year after Bill Russell and Sam Jones retired. In 1969-70, nice guy Hank Finkel took over in the middle and the Celtics plummeted to 34-48 while Red Auerbach went at the task of rebuilding for the first time. Help arrived a year later when Dave Cowens came to town.

There was another big dip at the end of the 1970s when John Y. Brown owned the team and the Celtics sold their souls to the likes of Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe. Once again, this drought was brief (out of the playoffs in 1977-78 and 1978-79) and a guy named Bird led the Green into a new championship era.

But now there is little light. Executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge has given us a team of overgrown kids who don't know how to win without Pierce.

"We're not a good team," Rivers said. "We're not good enough to win at home. We're not good enough to win on the road. As bad as we are, I keep seeing good stuff. We're gonna improve, but it probably won't be for a while."

And for the rest of the year they're going to play under a cloud of suspicion because of the long shadow cast by Ohio State 7-footer Greg Oden and Texas freshman Kevin Durant. Those two young men are expected to be the prizes of the 2007 draft and Boston's lose-to-win strategy could yield a franchise player. Which is what Carr was trying to do when he steered them aground hoping for Tim Duncan in '97.

"We're not trying to lose," said Rivers. "A coach doesn't want that. It goes on his record. But I understand why I have to answer the question. This only comes up every leap year -- when there's a LeBron or a Tim Duncan or a Patrick Ewing. It just so happens that the year we're not playing well is the year one of these leap years happens."

Red never wanted the dancers, but he wouldn't blame them for this. The Celtics can't win on the road. They can't win at home. They haven't won a game anywhere since Bill Belichick was sticking pins in Eric Mangini dolls. They are spiraling toward Secaucus with their sights set on Oden and Durant, and no one seems too upset about any of it.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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