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Garnett: Slight improvement

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 18, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Kevin Garnett is not difficult to wind up. He regards the slightest sign of doubt or pessimism as a challenge. Any perceived overconfidence by an opponent becomes bulletin-board material.

“Believe me, it doesn’t take much,’’ Garnett said. “I think we’re just motivated by what’s in front of us. Some of you had Miami beating us, some of you had Cleveland beating us. Those are all motivational subjects. Orlando is no different, plus this team is really good. See how Orlando just wiped people up in the playoffs, went through Charlotte, mopped up Atlanta. I mean, that’s way more than enough motivation. We don’t need much, but it’s there.’’

Since Cleveland and Orlando finished 1-2 in the Eastern Conference, Garnett considers the Celtics underdogs. The Celtics were .500 the final 54 games of the regular season but are 9-3 in the postseason.

“This is the second-best team in the East,’’ Garnett said of Orlando. “They have earned the right to be called the second-best team and that’s what they are. I have no problem with that. I think we’re playing decent basketball with room to improve.’’

But Garnett expects the Magic to match the Celtics’ intensity tonight.

“A lot of positive things in Game 1,’’ Garnett said of the Celtics’ victory. “But we focus on the things that we didn’t do well. We can rebound better, have to take care of the ball better — this team is a good team, plus we’re playing them at home, and we have to anticipate this team coming out full of energy and ready to go, so we’ve got to be ready for that.’’

Coach Doc Rivers is a motivator and Garnett said the team is responding.

“Doc Rivers is everything, he’s the glue that keeps everything together, he’s the captain of the ship,’’ Garnett said. “We believe in him 100 percent, even when we do think some of the things he says are kind of foreign. He’s a true soul and he speaks his mind. And that’s what you want from your coach, you want him to be brutally honest. We follow that same lead.’’

Garnett has even adjusted to Rivers’s program of pacing the team.

“As a veteran I can say that rest is always good,’’ he said.

Worrying ahead
Rivers expected to have to maintain order during practice yesterday.

“I worry about us when we win one game, I really do,’’ Rivers said. “It’s really strange, because veteran teams usually handle that well. We have not handled that well all year. I can always tell, practice is louder when we win. So, this practice, there’ll be a lot of talk and a lot of whistle-blowing to get guys to actually focus. But that’s just who we are.

“We’ve blown a lot of leads, we almost blew one [Sunday]. But the one thing I do like about this team is they have the ability to gather themselves, because they do have experience.’’

Change for the better
Rivers on the Celtics’ adjustments during the season: “We wanted to win as many games as we could, but the only chance we had is if everybody is healthy. Kevin, Paul [Pierce], Ray [Allen], Rasheed [Wallace], they had to be healthy if we wanted to have any chance to do anything.

“We cut their minutes, we changed practice times; down the stretch we actually practiced longer and sometimes didn’t play them in games. We knew we may blow a couple games but it was worth doing it.

“We are old, we knew that going in. It’s like a joke — when we win it’s because we have experience and when we lose it’s because we’re too old. I do think health has a lot to do with it and we’re healthy right now.

“I don’t know if we have turned the corner, yet. The training camp and the first 28 games is what gave me confidence. They showed they could do it. We just had to figure out a way of getting them back to that — health and mind-set.

“We had a terrific mind-set coming out of camp. The injuries threw everybody off, then you had to ask guys to play different roles. Then, when everybody came back, to get guys back to their old roles — you know, there were some of the guys [that said] I kind of like my new role. That was tough, but they’re there now, so that’s good.’’

One on one
The Celtics have single-teamed Dwight Howard with a front-line rotation of Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, and Wallace.

“You’ve got to hit him first, hit him second, you’ve got to hit him,’’ Perkins said. “He’s a physical guy. I think you try to limit his dunks. Any time he has a chance to have a dunk, you have to wrap him up, send him to the foul line. I think when he gets a dunk he gets going. He can make a jump hook, he doesn’t really feel that. He gets his energy off of getting dunks.

“I play him differently. Rasheed plays mind games with him. I’m straight up, I’m just going to be physical with him. Rasheed may reach right one time or mix it up, pull the chair on him. You’ve got to come into the game willing to get dirty. All or never. I’m going to put my nose into the fight.

“Rasheed stretches the court, he’s in great shape right now. He just helps us a lot. He’s been there before, he knows how to win, he helps us in every way.’’

In the second half of the 92-88 Game 1 win, the Celtics double-teamed Howard outside the lane, leaving Jason Williams open for a 3-pointer.

“That’s just an instinct, and we do a lot of that,’’ Rivers said. “But we have to be smarter against this team. They kill you when you double-team them, any of their guys.’’

Favorable matchup
Pierce, who shot 6 of 8, scored 22 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and had 5 assists in Game 1, got the best of Vince Carter (9 of 18, 23 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists).

“We feel we’ve got a great matchup with Paul, we feel like nobody can guard him in this series,’’ Perkins said. “So, we’re going to go at them.’’

Draft lottery tonight
Before Game 2 tonight, ESPN will broadcast the annual NBA draft lottery from Secaucus, N.J., at 8 p.m. The Nets have the best chance — 25 percent — to land the No. 1 pick, expected to be either Kentucky guard John Wall or Ohio State guard Evan Turner. The Timberwolves (19.9 percent) and Kings (15.6 percent) have the next-highest lottery probabilities.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report; Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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