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Rondo has repositioned himself mentally

Behind every screen, there’s a strong point guard to challenge Rajon Rondo, such as Chicago’s Derrick Rose Friday night. Behind every screen, there’s a strong point guard to challenge Rajon Rondo, such as Chicago’s Derrick Rose Friday night. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / November 1, 2009

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There was a stretch of games on the road last February that almost seemed to be booked with the sole purpose of challenging Rajon Rondo.

The Celtics point guard was up against Chris Paul in New Orleans one night, Jason Kidd in Dallas the next. Then Deron Williams in Utah, Steve Nash in Phoenix, Chauncey Billups in Denver, and Baron Davis in Los Angeles.

It was the kind of make-a-name-for-yourself competition that made Rondo’s eyes light up.

He flirted with a triple-double against Paul, then got one against Kidd (19 points, 14 assists, 15 rebounds). He threw 32 points at Nash along with 10 assists and 6 rebounds, and went for 14, 8, and 8 against Billups.

He had been the floor general on the 2008 Celtics championship team, but in those games, he seemed to be proving himself with every performance.

“I just had to go out there and show it,’’ Rondo said. “Not necessarily to prove it to any of the critics, but to my teammates and to myself that I could go out there and play with the best of them.’’

His mentality has changed this season.

“I’ve just got to prepare every night like I’m going against the best,’’ he said.

He had a marquee matchup with Mo Williams opening night against the Cavaliers. The Bobcats threw a pair of point guards at him the next night in Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin. He faced Chicago’s Derrick Rose, one of the young point guards he used as a measuring stick a year ago, Friday night. And today he’ll have to deal with Paul again with the Hornets in town.

But he doesn’t look at such matchups as showdowns anymore. He realizes that he has to show up every night, whether there’s an elite point guard on the floor or not.

“Last year, sometimes, I got caught up in playing, like, ‘I want to play against Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams,’ ’’ he said. “Now, I try to have the same mentality going into every single game.

“Last year, I felt I was pretty dominant. I felt I could be dominant against anybody, but I didn’t go out there and do it every night. But this year, I’m trying to take every game differently.’’

He also realizes that if you’re a point guard in this league, there aren’t going to be many nights off.

“You’ve got to bring it,’’ Rondo said. “You can say the Chris Pauls and Deron Williams, but Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Mo Williams, Jose Calerdon, T.J. Ford, Raymond Felton . . . any given night a point guard can go out and give you 18 and 20, or 20 and 10.’’

The NBA may be richer at the position than it’s been since the mid ’90s when Kidd, John Stockton, Gary Payton, Mark Price, Penny Hardaway, Tim Hardaway, Rod Strickland, and Mookie Blaylock were running the point.

“I would say you had in the late ’90s, early 2000s, you might have had five or six in the league,’’ Rasheed Wallace said. “But there’s a lot of good point guards sprouting up now. I guess like everything else, it skips a generation and then it comes back.’’

“The point guard spot was a deficit in our league,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “There was a stretch when there were no big men and no point guards and slowly both of them are coming back to our league, and that’s good.’’

Two years ago, Rondo was the question mark on the Celtics. Now, he’s considered one of the league’s top young point guards.

“It’s always going to be critics,’’ Rondo said. “That’s part of the game. I won a ring, they still got something to say: ‘You probably couldn’t do all this without the Big Three.’

“It’s always going to be somebody saying something negative towards me or towards my game, but it doesn’t bother me at all.’’

Since opening night, Rondo has dealt with questions about a contract extension. At the start of the week, his agent, Bill Duffy, said talks with the team were off, then by Wednesday he said discussions were back on. The sides have until tomorrow to reach an agreement or Rondo will become a restricted free agent in July.

Meanwhile, Rondo has been fodder for debate and trade rumors on radio and the Internet.

“You have to experience it,’’ Rondo said. “Guys told me how it was going to be. Things would be said. How you would look at things differently. But you don’t know until you go through it yourself and have to experience it yourself.’’

Rondo said he hoped that a deal could be reached, but added, “I haven’t had time to be selfish and think about myself and the contract.

“Honestly, I don’t think about it. I leave that between Duff and Danny [Ainge] and Wyc [Grousbeck].’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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