THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Rondo’s play now a point of concern

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 16, 2011

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When told about the Celtics’ upcoming schedule — four games in six days in four cities — Rajon Rondo raised his eyes from his dejected postgame state Monday and expressed shock.

The busy stretch doesn’t conclude any time soon, either. The Celtics don’t get a two-day respite until March 29-30, just before facing San Antonio March 31.

That means Rondo has to get his game in gear. There will be no breaks. The Celtics need a productive and consistent Rondo to win.

And that hasn’t been the case of late. After Monday’s 88-79 loss at New Jersey, Rondo sat with his feet soaking in ice, attempting to calm his plantar fasciitis and sprained right ankle while pondering his recent struggles.

Rondo is not one for public reflection. He doesn’t reveal himself much in interviews. But his recent play has to be a source of discomfort.

The Celtics’ offense has flourished since the acquisition of Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green, but Rondo has not played well since Kendrick Perkins was lost in that same trade. In 10 games since the franchise-altering deal, Rondo is shooting just 40 percent from the field — 9 points lower than his season average — and averaging 10.5 assists — 1.2 less than his season average.

In the past two games, Rondo is 2 of 16 from the field, including nine misses in 10 attempts Monday.

The Celtics maximize their offensive effectiveness when Rondo is a threat, but he gets discouraged when he misses easy layups, as he did Monday.

The Celtics’ offense was stagnant in the second half Monday, as the trapping defense of Nets coach Avery Johnson turned them into jump shooters, and Rondo’s passivity essentially allowed that.

“I don’t know if he’s slumping, but he’s not playing great right now,’’ coach Doc Rivers said Monday night. “He’s just going through a stretch. It’s a long season.

“He’s human, the last time I checked, and you go through stretches, just like Paul [Pierce], Ray [Allen], and Kevin [Garnett] all go through stretches. We’re fine. We’re just not playing well.’’

With no legitimate backup all season because of the suspension and then injury to Delonte West and the ineffectiveness of Nate Robinson, Rondo has had to log the most minutes of any Celtic. And while Rivers said earlier that he wasn’t that concerned about Rondo’s playing time, he ended that line of thinking two weeks ago and the team signed Carlos Arroyo.

Since Arroyo made his debut, Rondo has played 36 minutes per game, compared with 39 in February. But Rondo is not completely healthy; he requires extensive foot massages before games, and Monday he took a vicious screen from New Jersey’s Kris Humphries that forced him out briefly.

Rondo will never admit that injuries are playing a factor, especially when, at 25, he’s considered the baby of this bunch, incapable of getting hurt like his more grizzled teammates.

What Rondo will acknowledge is that the offense is sputtering. The Celtics have been held to an average of 87 points in the past three games — two of those losses. New Jersey shot 39.7 percent Monday yet still won because of the Celtics’ questionable shot selection.

“I know we had a lot of wide-open shots, but we need to get better looks at the basket,’’ said Rondo. “Some shots we made, a lot of shots we missed that we usually make, but we’ve got to get easier baskets as far as transition. We got to take advantage on the break. We got stops, but we just didn’t convert on the offensive end.

“We did the same thing [Sunday] against Milwaukee. We played great defense, we just didn’t score. We should have scored at least 100 and we didn’t.’’

The Celtics have 17 games left, starting tonight against the Pacers at TD Garden, and they are in serious jeopardy of losing the No. 1 seed to Chicago, which took over first in the Eastern Conference last night, or Miami. It’s an unfortunate time for a slump, especially from the team’s most important offensive component, Rondo.

“I haven’t scored the ball well lately,’’ he said. “Our losses are all different, I think. It’s no consistent way why we lose games.

“I was telling somebody else earlier, we got off to a great start [Monday]. And that’s not usually like us to get off to great leads. But it’s nothing to panic over. We just need to focus.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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