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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

Rookie Allen makes leap

He plays his way into starting lineup

ATLANTA -- Tony Allen was the last of the three first-round picks of the Celtics in 2004, taken 25th overall, one spot behind Delonte West and 10 behind Al Jefferson. He will be the first of the three, however, to move into Doc Rivers's starting five on a regular basis.

Allen made his first pro start Saturday night against the Hawks, a move Rivers thought was overdue. Allen scored a team-high 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, but that wasn't what caught the eye of Rivers or Celtics hoops el jefe Danny Ainge, who is making this trip. It was everything else Allen did.

"He was arguably the best player on the court for either team," Ainge said yesterday.

Said Rivers, "He singlehandedly led the charge at the beginning of the game and in the third quarter. It was pretty cool to watch. He was on such a high. That's how we need him to be all the time defensively. He runs the floor and he got our break going again. That was nice. And he finishes. He either finishes or gets fouled. Those are things we need."

Allen brings the energy Rivers feels is sorely missing, something he talked about at length after the hugely disappointing 100-96 loss to the Hawks. Allen will start tonight when the Celtics play the Charlotte Bobcats, displacing Jiri Welsch, who had started the previous 32 games prior to Saturday.

"That's a lineup change that needed to be made," Rivers said. The coach said he wasn't counting on Allen shooting so well or scoring so much, but added, "If he does, that's great."

Said Allen, "I've been working hard in practice. I just want to stay in the lineup."

He will for now. While the starting five has pretty much been the same, with only a few tweaks, Rivers's substitution patterns look like they've been choreographed to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. In the last three games, for example, he has used all 12 players in the first half. In the closing minutes of the loss to Atlanta, he had both Jefferson (who did start one game for the injured Raef LaFrentz) and Allen on the floor.

"This is a work in progress," Rivers said. "[There are] a lot of changes I'm trying to make. That's going to happen over time. I've always thought when you try to make changes, it's tougher with the veterans than with the young guys. [Veterans] like things to be done the way they have been done. That's just natural. But it's not going to be done that way."

Rivers said he prefers a nine-man rotation and that he will have one one of these days. And when that happens, "Somebody, one of our key guys, won't play. Then you've got to sell them on being a teammate and on a role, and that's the next step." But, he added, "That's the least of my worries."

Ainge didn't seem too concerned, either, about the logjam at the swing position, which has 96 minutes available for Paul Pierce, Ricky Davis, Welsch, and Allen.

"They're all valuable players to us," he said. "On every team, you have good players who don't play. But things happen, injuries, and then you need them."

Leading question
Rivers lauded Pierce's leadership over the last three weeks ("I think he has been terrific in that area"), and then said he still is somewhat baffled why Pierce's teammates don't go to their best player when the game is on the line. "We have to know who our guy is," Rivers said. "We didn't get the ball to Paul. He's the only guy on our team who can demand a double-team, the only guy. That's where the ball has to go down the stretch of games. I didn't think I had to preach that every day, but I guess I do." . . . Beware of Jason Kapono? In their two losses on this trip, the Celtics have been victimized by an unlikely opponent. Travis Best scored a season-high 24 points against them in New Jersey Friday and rookie Josh Childress lit them up for a season-high 19 Saturday. "No offense to Childress," said LaFrentz, "but he hasn't been around long enough where we were focusing on him a lot." . . . Mark Blount's 11-minute stint against the Hawks was, by far, his shortest of the season. He had gone 18 in two other games . . . The Bobcats have dropped eight straight and 14 of 15. Their only victory since Christmas was a 102-84 trashing of the Minnesota Timberwolves Jan. 5 at home. Seven of their eight wins have come at home . . . The NBA's return to Charlotte hasn't exactly translated into an attendance boom. In 19 home games, the Bobcats have managed only one sellout (opening night against the Wizards) and are averaging a mere 14,700 in cavernous Charlotte Coliseum. They move into a beautiful new arena downtown next season . . . The last time these teams met, Nov. 12 in Boston, guard Eddie House led the Bobcats with 15 points in a 91-74 Celtics victory. House was waived Dec. 4, two days before the Bobcats acquired Kareem Rush from the Lakers, and has resurfaced with the Sacramento Kings . . . Seven of the Bobcats' 29 defeats have been by 3 points or fewer. 

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