Pierce keeps tabs on foes
WALTHAM - Celtics captain Paul Pierce and coach Doc Rivers are looking ahead to the playoffs, the team's focus going beyond the final five games of the regular season. But while Rivers is concentrating on his own team, Pierce is keeping an eye on things elsewhere, just in case he might be curious about a future opponent.
The Celtics (58-19), who host the Nets tonight, have a chance to post consecutive 60-win seasons for the first time since 1984-85 and 1985-86. They have long since clinched a top three Eastern Conference finish and are now out to optimize team health, regardless of their standing with first-place Cleveland and third-place Orlando.
"I know we're tied or a game up but I can honestly tell you I have not looked at the standings for a week and a half," Rivers said yesterday. "And when I looked at them, I just glanced.
"I can't do anything but win our games. I can't tell you where [other teams] play, I can't tell you any of that stuff. But the guys know, I guarantee they know, and that's more important than me knowing."
The Knicks could help determine the Celtics' first-round opponent, since they visited Chicago last night and host Detroit tonight. The Bulls and Pistons began last night tied for the No. 7 seed.
"I look at it more, probably, than anybody," said Pierce. "I think it's fun to see who you might match up with. I look at the West, the race is changing every day.
"I'm a basketball fan. I keep up with it religiously. I watch games, look at the standings, see who we might match up with in the first round. Right now, Chicago or Detroit, they have the same records, so it could flop either way.
"You never know. With five games left, [sixth-place] Philly can drop, they're having injury problems. We could be No. 2 or 3, so it could be Philly, Detroit, Chicago. Let the chips fall where they may."
Meanwhile, the Celtics are showing signs of progress, with Kevin Garnett (right knee) and Brian Scalabrine (concussion) returning to light workouts.
"[Garnett] is clearly moving better," Rivers said. "[Monday], as far as I was concerned, was a good day. You could see the improvement. He wants to be on the floor but he has accepted the fact that he has to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs, more than playing."
Scalabrine was cleared by Dr. Robert Cantu of Emerson Hospital to participate in drills for the first time since Feb. 24. Scalabrine has been working out on his own and, after eight successive days without symptoms, he joined the team for noncontact workouts.
"I feel back to normal," Scalabrine said. "It's absolutely encouraging."
Scalabrine is expected to travel with the team to Cleveland Sunday but has not been cleared to play in games.
"We had two good days of practice, guys are out there feeling good," Pierce said. "Hopefully, the time off gave guys time to heal their injuries.
"You have to start getting your mind prepared for the playoffs. You don't just say, 'OK, here's the playoffs.' I think it's a preparation thing - you start doing the things you are going to do once the playoffs start, the way you rest, the way you eat, the way you practice.
"So it's a good time to start gearing up for it now, especially since it's only a week away."
Asked about the competition for the second seed with Orlando, Pierce said, "It can go one or two ways. It keeps us all playing. Last year, going into the playoffs, maybe we were a little more fresh, but maybe we weren't as sharp.
"Maybe this will keep us sharp because we're playing each and every game this year, instead of sitting some games, sitting some fourth quarters. I think we can go into the playoffs sharp but I think the key is, hopefully, we go into the playoffs with no more injuries."