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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

New look to starting five

WALTHAM -- The Celtics have their starting lineup in place for tomorrow night's opener against Miami at the FleetCenter. Center Mark Blount, power forward Vin Baker, small forward Kedrick Brown, and point guard Mike James will join Paul Pierce for the tipoff. In other words, four of the five starters are different from last season. According to coach Jim O'Brien, Blount earned his starting spot by being "by far the best defensive big man."Defensive skill is also what persuaded O'Brien to give Brown the starting nod. "I was on the first-team green, so I kind of figured," said Brown. "When I came into training camp, I was just trying to get playing time. Being a starter, I'm just going to go out there and give a lot of energy and defense."

Like Brown, Blount does not make much of his new role. He knows O'Brien reserves the right to change the starting lineup, especially as last year's starting center, Tony Battie, recovers from offseason knee surgery and a recent sprained right ankle.

"I'm on the same page with Coach O'Brien and I know what he wants," said Blount.

Brown goes fourth

In a move director of basketball operations Danny Ainge called a "no-brainer," the Celtics picked up Brown's fourth-year option, keeping the swingman with the team at least through 2004-05. "He's put the time in this summer to really improve his game and we're very excited about him in our organization," said Ainge. An injury-free camp allowed the coaching staff to get a good gauge of Brown's potential. He gives them athleticism and tough defense. And now, with more playing time, Brown feels more confident shooting the ball. "It's a big day for me," said Brown. "I was worrying about it a little bit, since everybody started talking about it. Now I just have to go out there and play ball." . . . Rookies Brandon Hunter (Achilles' tendinitis) and Kendrick Perkins (knee tendinitis) and recent acquisition Chris Mills (heel spurs) will start the season on the injured list . . . The Celtics, in conjunction with Citizens Bank, will hold pep rallies today from 7-10 a.m. at the Government Center and Park Street T stops. Walter McCarty and Blount will be at Government Center from 7:30-8:30 to sign autographs, as will Brown and Hunter at Park Street during the same hour . . . In Sunday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Antoine Walker responded to a critical column last week by the Globe's Bob Ryan by saying, "They're definitely going to take cheap shots. I kinda figured that. That's the makeup of the Boston writers."

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