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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

Allen anticipating early return

Rivers ready to activate guard

The trademarked name on the compression sleeve worn by Tony Allen last night was ''Game Ready." That same phrase perfectly describes the shooting guard's current status.

After just one practice with the Celtics, coach Doc Rivers considered activating Allen for last night's victory over the Sixers at the TD Banknorth Garden. But both Rivers and Allen figured it was best to wait one more practice. If all goes well in another team workout today, Allen will be back on the court for tomorrow night's game against the Bulls, almost two weeks earlier than expected. Rivers will likely deactivate Ryan Gomes or Orien Greene.

''We honestly considered doing it [activating Allen] today, just so you know," said Rivers in his pregame press conference. ''At the end of the day, after just one practice, I didn't want to take that gamble. He went hard again today. It will be interesting after tomorrow's practice to see how he feels. If he feels good, we'll probably activate him."

Allen said his surgically repaired right knee looked and felt the same before and after hard workouts Tuesday and yesterday, with no visible increase in swelling, tenderness, or stiffness. For Allen, the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process has been regaining confidence in his knee.

''I'm just not too sure about [the knee] right now," Allen said. ''I think I needed a couple more practices. After [today], I'll know if I'm going to play in the game or not . . . It was a thought [to play last night], but I was skeptical about it. Right now, it's all mental. I've just got to get my mind to react to my knee. Confidence in my knee. My game is still there."

Allen, who averaged 6.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 16.4 minutes a game as a rookie last season, will give Rivers another pure shooting guard to work into the rotation. Allen also allows Rivers to go with a smaller lineup. Last year, Allen started 34 games and allowed Ricky Davis to build his sixth man résumé. It remains to be seen whether the return of Allen will mean Davis returns to his reserve role. It also remains to be seen how long and how hard Allen can play. But with coaches now allowed to activate players for each game, Rivers has no problem testing Allen against Chicago, then deactivating him if he doesn't look ready or becomes very sore.

Allen likely will miss upcoming games because of court dates. His arraignment on battery charges is scheduled for Tuesday in Chicago; the Celtics play at Houston later that night.

''It has to be a disruption," Rivers said. ''Let's say he plays against Chicago, then we go on the road, he might have to miss a game, he might have to travel. It's there. There's no way around it. The legal part is first because that's his real life, then he can get into the fantasy of basketball after that."

Change in rank

The Bruins' trade of Joe Thornton did not exactly send shock waves through the Garden last night, though Rivers and Paul Pierce did comment on the significance of sending away a captain.

''Well, I hate to see when any captain and starter of a certain team is traded," Rivers said. ''I think it takes teams a ton to build through that. History has shown that. So, I'm sad to see him go."

Said Pierce: ''Well, Shaq [O'Neal] was traded last year. [Tracy] McGrady was traded. Vince [Carter]. I'm sure they were captain of their teams."

Full-time jobs

Even with the uncertainty surrounding the Celtics' rotation, fans attending last night's game were guaranteed to see a lot of Allen Iverson and Davis. Iverson, who played all 48 minutes last night, leads the league in minutes, averaging 43.9 per game. Davis is second, averaging 42.4 minutes. Pierce just makes it into the top 15 with an average of 38.8 minutes. Although Rivers would like to reduce their minutes, Davis has no problem logging lots of playing time. ''I've been working out a lot trying to build my body up to sustain it the whole year," he said. ''The harder you work off the court in the weight room and all that other stuff will help you out a lot. So, I've been taking the initiative to do that a lot." . . . Iverson may be playing the best basketball of anyone in the league. ''He's playing at a very, very high level right now," said Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks . . . The Sixers are in the middle of their third and last stretch of four games in five nights. ''It may be unusual, but if you're going to have them, it's better to have them now," Cheeks said.

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