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No down time

Celtics upbeat despite losses

Email|Print| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / February 24, 2008

PHOENIX - In the visitors' locker room at US Airways Center Friday, there was no trash can tossed across the room, no finger-pointing, no doom and gloom after the Celtics had lost a third straight game for the first time this season.

Rather, there was a quiet confidence that they will right their once-unstoppable ship.

Tonight, the Celtics will try to get back to the winning ways they have become accustomed to when they play the fourth of five games on this Western trip, against the Trail Blazers at Portland, Ore.

"It's not the end of the world," said guard Ray Allen. "Most of us have been playing the game for a long time and we've been in bad situations before."

Added Kevin Garnett, "We are not the type of group that's going to run and hit the panic button."

And coach Doc Rivers: "It's no big deal. Nobody died."

One reason the Celtics aren't down and out is that they know each of the three losses was winnable.

Defensive issues were the problem in the first two, as the Celtics lost by 6 points (124-118) in Denver and by 2 at Golden State (119-117). Against the Suns, scoring was the issue in an 85-77 setback.

"Our growing pains are helping us because we know we are battle-tested," said Allen.

"There are a lot of things that we can take that we haven't been doing so far on this West Coast trip," said Paul Pierce. "I thought we didn't defend the first two games. We defended at a high level [Friday], just the offense wasn't there."

The Celtics are also still adapting to the presence of Garnett, who returned against Denver last Tuesday after missing nine games with an abdominal strain.

Garnett was averaging 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists before getting hurt. The Celtics went a surprising 7-2 without him but haven't won since his return. Since a rusty 4-point effort against Denver, Garnett has averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds the past two games.

"I'm getting better and better through hard work," Garnett said. "I've got to continue to dedicate myself like I always do to shake this rust as soon as possible."

The Celtics believe one thing that will get them through this low is their closeness as a team.

Garnett pointed out that he hasn't been on a team like this, where "9 or 10" guys are close.

Even though this Celtics team entered the season with nine new players, they became close quickly during training camp in Rome and London, where they were forced to spend a lot of time together. They quickly learned they had a lot in common, and they have no problem talking openly with one another about team issues to find a resolution.

"That's what the best thing is about this team - we are able to talk freely, not whisper," Garnett said. "Sometimes you have little cliques in the locker room. We are not that type of team. We talk openly about who should do what and what we should do the next game."

Said Allen, "We've all been on the hot seat. We've all made mistakes. You just have to take it and be better the next time.

"In order to buy into the system, we've all had to check our ego at the door. We love winning and stats don't really matter."

While the Pistons are now only two games behind them in the Eastern Conference standings, the Celtics still have the best record in the NBA, so the bull's-eye will not go away. Even so, Garnett says, the Celtics are proud of the reputation they've earned, and feel confident that they will quickly overcome their recent slide.

"We've built that," Garnett said. "It wasn't something that [the media] gave us. It wasn't that we went to the store and bought it. It wasn't like we went online and got it. It's something that we obtained. It's something that we went out and achieved. That's something that each and every last one of these players in here, along with the staff, members of the Celtics, we all as one went out and got that.

"We know we've been through some difficult times these last couple of days. But everything we've grown to be this year, it's not hype. Hype is a level of promotion in which you're trying to sell something. We're not selling this. This is what it is. We created our record. Our record didn't create us."

An NBA source said the Celtics have contacted representatives for waived guards Brent Barry and Flip Murray. Although the source said the Celtics have some interest in recently waived center Jamaal Magloire, they have yet to contact his representatives. Barry, who is coveted by several teams, actually becomes an unrestricted free agent at 10 a.m. Tuesday, assuming he clears waivers. Murray and Magloire become unrestricted free agents, assuming they clear waivers, Tuesday at 6 p.m. Once forward/center Chris Andersen gets reinstated by the NBA, the Hornets are expected to re-sign him, according to an NBA source. If Andersen became a free agent, Boston would be expected to have interest.

The Celtics had a light practice at US Airways Center yesterday before departing for Portland. Rivers made the practice entertaining by beating "half of them," he said, in a baseline-to-baseline sprint. Practice would have been canceled if all the players beat Rivers. Center Kendrick Perkins also beat rookie forward Glen Davis in an up-and-back baseline-to-baseline sprint . . . Forward Brian Scalabrine surprised Rivers by practicing yesterday after missing three straight games. While Rivers said it's possible Scalabrine could be available today, Scalabrine believes tomorrow's road game against the Clippers is more realistic.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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