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Rivers aching for full squad

Celtics’ health is his wish

Despite their 23-4 record and 14-game win streak, Ray Allen isn’t overly excited by the way the Celtics have been playing. Despite their 23-4 record and 14-game win streak, Ray Allen isn’t overly excited by the way the Celtics have been playing. (File/Charles Krupa/Associated Press)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 24, 2010

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A third of the way through the season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers would like to say he has a read on his team, but aside from the record (23-4) and the winning streak (14 games), it’s hard to gauge because of all the injuries.

“I don’t know, because we don’t have our team, really,’’ Rivers said. “Record-wise, we’re great, but as far as getting better and progressing as a team, for a coach, that’s my concern. We’re winning games. We’re not improving a lot because we don’t have enough guys right now.’’

The Celtics started to peak after an embarrassing loss Nov. 21 in Toronto, going to Atlanta the next night and blowing out the Hawks by 23, and winning every game since. But those wins have come in every imaginable fashion with seemingly every conceivable lineup.

At the same time, practices have been few and far between. The Celtics have had 10 official practices, and many of them without key players, including Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Rajon Rondo.

“Our second unit isn’t getting any work be cause our whole second unit is in street clothes, for the most part,’’ Rivers said. “So we’re just going to keep trying to win as many games as we can through this stretch. It’s a tough stretch. You just feel like you’ve got a finger on a dam right now and you need some bodies to plug it up. At some point, something’s going to give. So we have to get people back.’’

Even with the noticeable slippage of the past three games — back to back the Knicks and Hawks shot 50 percent or better, the only teams to do it during the winning streak — the Celtics have been able to win games that would have slipped through the cracks a year ago.

“We’re human, we’re not perfect, but we work at this every day,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “We’ve got a deeper team this year, a lot more experience on this team than last year. We’ve paid attention to our past and we’ve tried to learn from it and tried to apply it.’’

The Celtics strung together 11 straight wins last season, and won 14 of 15 before the wheels started to fall off. They lost three straight games out West, to the Clippers, Warriors, and Suns, then dropped eight of their 14 games in January. But with central pieces Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce healthy, Rivers isn’t worried about going through another skid.

“The only reason we went on that slide — no one wanted to hear that last year during that whole stretch — we had our whole team hurt. It’s not like we started playing bad, we started playing injured,’’ Rivers said. “We really never got healthy completely. Then we made a conscious choice to shut bodies down. But if we can get healthy, I’m not concerned by it. But if we can’t, then yeah, you’re always concerned by it.’’

If there’s a difference this season, it’s that the Celtics will be looking forward to bodies returning in the coming months, starting with Jermaine O’Neal tomorrow in Orlando. As more players enter the rotation, consistency will come a little more easily.

“I think we could play a lot better,’’ Allen said. “I’m not overly excited about what we’ve been doing. At the same time, it seems like it’s been patchwork in a sense because we’ve been working with so many lineups trying to figure it out. Guys have gotten in and played well, but just creating that ultimate chemistry where everybody knows what to expect. But you get that when you have a lineup and you know who’s coming in and you’ve played that way the entire season. I don’t think we’ve had that yet.’’

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

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