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Climb isn't unconquerable

Celtics' start doesn't mean they are finished

The opening night loss was to New Jersey in double overtime. The fourth loss, in Game No. 4, was a 1-pointer to the Clippers. All in all, the Chicago Bulls lost their first nine games of the 2004-05 season before beating Utah by 2. In their next game, three nights later at Cleveland, they lost by 22.

An 0-9 start became 2-13 and there was no one at that point who thought the 2004-05 Bulls were going to be a whole lot different from the year before, when they won 23 games.

Complicating matters for coach Scott Skiles, in his first full season, was that he had an incredibly young team. He had four rookies: Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, and Andres Nocioni. Kirk Hinrich was in his second year. Of those five players, only Nocioni was older than 23. Deng was 19. Among the "veterans," Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, each starting his fourth year, were 22 and 21, respectively.

The 2006-07 Celtics won't start 0-9. But their discouraging beginning, along with the fact they are a very young team, makes it all the more crucial that these guys do not fray and come apart at the seams. That Chicago team made one of the more remarkable turnarounds in league history. After going 2-13, they went 45-22 the rest of the way and made the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the East.

"It was tough the way things started that season," Duhon recalled. "But the coaching staff kept finding positives in all the losses. That's where they did a great job of keeping us together. We were doing a good job, but we were unable to finish games. [Sound familiar?] We practiced hard. We played hard. But we had to learn how to finish. And once we started to get a few wins, our confidence jumped enormously."

This is not to suggest that these Celtics will do what those Bulls did. For starters, two of the Bulls' rookies were lottery picks (as was Hinrich) and Nocioni had a solid international résumé. Plus, the Bulls opened with eight of 11 on the road.

These Celtics have no lottery young'uns (although Gerald Green was projected to be one). They have a heavy load of home games in November and their roadies this month (save for last night's game in Cleveland) do not appear especially onerous. But if things continue to sputter, what can the coaching staff do to right the ship, as Skiles did two years ago?

"We watched a ton of film," Duhon said. "We broke down offenses. We broke down defenses. And that gave Scott and the staff a chance to coach us. We drilled and drilled. And I also think that after our bad start, a lot of teams underestimated us. The Bulls had been bad before and they figured our team was going to be like those Bulls teams. But we were young. We played hard. I think it was a shock to some of those teams how hard we came at them."

And how quickly it all turned around. The Bulls, 12 games under .500 Dec. 6, were 19-19 after a Jan. 22 victory at the defending NBA champion Pistons. They were an NBA-best 13-3 in January. They held 26 straight opponents to fewer than 100 points, had the No. 1 field goal defense in the league, and became only the sixth team in NBA history to be at least 11 games under .500 and finish the season with a winning record. They lost a tough playoff series to Washington (after taking a 2-0 lead) in part because both Deng (torn right wrist ligament) and Curry (heart issues) were out of the lineup.

So when you hear the Celtics talk about it being a long season, it is. The only remaining question is whether they can come together like that Chicago team and make the season more than what it looks like it will be -- a runaway train to Secaucus.

Some have minor aspirations

Training camps for the NBA's Development League open today and there are some familiar names on the 12 team rosters. Chief among them: Troy Bell.

The former Boston College star, whose NBA career consists of six games with the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2003-04 season, is on the Albuquerque Thunderbirds. (The T-Birds will travel to China for a pair of exhibition games against the Chinese national team, who will be minus a certain 7-foot-5-inch center playing in Houston.)

Bell, who played in one exhibition game in 2005 for the Hornets, was the last player (12th overall) taken in the first round of the recent NBDL draft. Other notable selections include Kris Clack, who is on the Austin Toros. Clack was the Celtics' only pick in the 1999 draft, taken 55th overall, two slots ahead of a then-unknown Argentine named Manu Ginobili.

Celtics training camper Akin Akingbala has a spot on the new team in Los Angeles, the D-Fenders; his Celtic camp mate, Kevin Pittsnogle, is rumored to be going to the Pittsburgh franchise in the CBA.

Former UConn star Denham Brown, a second-round pick of the Sonics last June, is with the Tulsa 66ers. Brown was the eighth overall pick in the NBDL draft. The No. 1 overall pick was Corsley Edwards, who played at Central Connecticut. Teams must reduce their rosters to 10 by Nov. 22, with the season starting Nov. 24.

Chandler's potential impact has Hornets buzzing

The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets became the last undefeated team to go down (Thursday against the Warriors) and are hoping the good times continue. One of their new faces, Tyson Chandler, is hoping for the breakout season Bulls fans waited for and never got. (Suffice it to say that Chandler and Scott Skiles are not planning any fishing trips.)

"I enjoyed myself in Chicago. My teammates and the organization were good to me," Chandler said. (Notice he left out the coaching staff, although he did coexist with Bill Cartwright.) "Sometimes you just need to make a change. I felt that was what I needed and I think both parties are happy with the end results. I feel refreshed, excited, rejuvenated."

Chandler gives the Hornets much-needed size inside and is a terrific shot-blocker. But has he matured enough -- this is his sixth season and he just turned 24 -- and can he stay injury-free to help the Hornets?

Coach Byron Scott is banking on it, at both ends of the floor. He knows he got a defender/rebounder/rejector. He also wants a scorer, even though Chandler has never averaged more than 9.2 points in a season.

"I told him I didn't want him to be a guy who got a rebound 3 feet from the basket and threw it back out," Scott said. "I wanted him to go back and attack the rim. I'm trying to show him we have a lot of confidence in him and we're going to invest a lot of time in him so he can feel comfortable at the offensive end."

Scott said he is disregarding whatever happened in Chicago, although he knows it affected Chandler. "You could tell right away he had no confidence when he touched the ball," Scott said. "The first thing he was looking to do was get rid of it. I told him, 'That's not what we want.' We are going to work every day so he feels comfortable he can make a move. I mean, the guy is 7-1."

Chandler isn't doing a lot of scoring yet, but he entered last night tied for ninth in the NBA in rebounding at 10.5 per game.

Etc.

Technically speaking
NBA players' union chief Billy Hunter has been getting a lot of calls from his rank and file, most concerning the new crackdown by the referees resulting in substantially more technical fouls. He told the Associated Press last week that if it continues, he may be forced to try something to get it to stop. "I think what may ultimately happen if it continues to occur is we will probably be compelled to bring an unfair labor practice action or something," Hunter said. "Try to seek some relief, at least to have the issue either heard or at least elevated so that it gets a lot more public attention than it's currently getting." Actually, it's getting a lot of attention. Union attorney Ron Klempner said what bothers the players is that there has been no consistency in the calls. "They were all showed a tape before the season started as to what they could and couldn't do," Klempner said. "And then they do what they can do -- and they still get a technical." The union also could file a grievance if it feels the situation is out of hand. But when the union went to court after commissioner David Stern suspended all those New York and Miami players in the late 1990s, it was told that its case was unlikely to succeed on the merits. But stay tuned. One thing that hasn't changed: Rasheed Wallace is still among the league leaders in technicals.

Wolves rookie not sheepish
Former Boston College forward Craig Smith, the second-round pick of the Timberwolves, is averaging around 18 minutes off the bench. Smith had one of the most bizarre and possibly unprecedented debuts in NBA history. In his first game, at home against Sacramento, he played 10 minutes and fouled out. (He also had 3 points, but six fouls in 10 minutes is downright Greg Kite-ish.) Two nights later, in his first road game (against Denver), Smith had 20 points in 16 minutes (on 10-of-15 shooting) and only one foul. Too bad he didn't take as many shots against Georgia Tech in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, a game the Eagles lost, 57-54, in a performance that can charitably be described as a no-show (1 of 4, fouling out in 22 minutes). But Smith has proven to be a solid NBA rookie to date.

Comforts of home
Don't be surprised if the Lakers make a run in the Pacific Division, especially with the Suns reeling. Their schedule in November makes the Celtics' (9 of 15 at home) look like a traveling road show. Starting with Friday night's loss to the Pistons in Staples Center, the Lakers will play 12 of 14 games at home and one of those "road" games is against the Clippers. In other words, from Nov. 10 to Dec. 11, the Lakers will make one venture outside Los Angeles -- to play the Jazz in Salt Lake City the day after Thanksgiving. All in all, the Lakers play 15 of their first 20 at home.

K-Mart closed for business
The Nuggets learned last week that Kenyon Martin is going to be out for an undetermined stretch for surgery on his right knee. Martin was truly bummed to get the news, but we're not sure about the rest of the team. Denver took the floor last season 25 times when K-Mart was out because of injury and won 19 of those games. Martin then was suspended after the first two games of the playoffs. Maybe this year will be different; the Nuggets inexplicably blew a late lead at home to lose to the Knicks Nov. 8 with Martin sitting out. Denver also has tons of depth in the frontcourt (remember, the ever-fragile Marcus Camby also plays there) with the return of Nene, who basically missed all of last season, as well as Joe Smith, Reggie Evans, and Eduardo Najera. Evans's claim to fame is getting suspended last year in the playoffs for grabbing Chris Kaman in a, well, sensitive spot (the NBA called it "unnecessary and excessive contact" and fined him $10,000). Evans never left George Karl's bench in the first three games, then logged nine minutes Friday night against Philadelphia. That might be somewhat understandable had the Nuggets not forked over more than $20 million to the guy over the summer.

Legacy lives on
Red Auerbach may no longer be with us, but the summer basketball camp that bears his name will still be in business for its 48th season. The 2007 camp runs from July 23-28 and will be at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I. For more information, call Steve Curley at 508-429-7121 or check out superhoopcamps.com.

Peter May can be reached at P_May@globe.com. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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