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Celtics Notebook

Rondo shows signs of breakout

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 20, 2011

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NEW ORLEANS — Rajon Rondo says he doesn’t read the papers, doesn’t surf the web, and doesn’t watch “SportsCenter,’’ so he didn’t get a real grasp of how much attention his slump was getting and how many people figured he had to be playing hurt.

Then Kevin Garnett said he was playing hurt, and Celtics president Danny Ainge said the same thing.

“That’s what shocked me yesterday when you told me Kevin said that,’’ Rondo said. “Kevin said it, then Danny said it. I didn’t know.’’

Indeed, for most of the season Rondo has played through plantar fasciitis and a sprained ankle, and for the past two weeks he had been quietly taping the pinkie finger on his shooting hand because it was jammed.

The truth is he was playing poorly, and acknowledged as much after knocking down 4 of 8 shots in the Celtics’ 89-85 win over the Hornets last night.

“I haven’t struggled like that since I’ve been in the league, I don’t think,” Rondo said. “I played decent today, it’s not that it’s over. I’ve just got to stay focused and continue to believe in myself.”

In the four games leading into last night, he had been 4 for 29 from the floor and did not register double figures in assists.

Last night, he drilled an 18-footer in the first quarter when his nemesis Chris Paul sagged off him and Rondo’s confidence grew. Rondo had 9 points and five assists; Paul countered with 4 points and 15 assists.

“It felt good to hit a shot — more than one,’’ Rondo said. “It was a relief.’’

“You could see Rondo’s confidence was back up again,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

The tell-tale sign came in the third quarter when Rondo left the game after jamming his right pinkie running into Garnett. The finger went numb. Trainer Ed Lacerte went in to tape it.

Rondo joked, “Ed I don’t want to tape my fingers together right now, I’m feeling it.’’

It was just four shots, but he said, “It’s four more shots than I hit the last five games.’’

Pierce slumping In a bit of a shooting slump after going 1 for 9 last night, Paul Pierce is content to simply ride it out.

He went 2 for 10 against Houston Friday and was 2 for 10 March 14 against the Nets.

“The crazy thing is, [Friday] I didn’t have a good rhythm, today I had a good rhythm,” Pierce said. “All my shots felt good, I just missed them. It’s not something I’m worried about. I’m just going to rest this out. I’m glad we got the win.’’

Seeds of doubt Five months ago, Rivers, said home court may have been the difference between a Game 7 loss to the Lakers and a second NBA title in three years. Before the season, he said the top seed was a priority.

“It’s whoever you ask,’’ Rondo said. “I don’t think [it’s important]. I think it’s important for us to get our chemistry.’’

Circumstances have changed and apparently so have the Celtics’ goals.

They knew home court would be crucial in a tougher Eastern Conference, but after shaking up their roster, their goal is to get the new players acclimated.

The Celtics once had a comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference, but are now tied with Chicago. Miami is two behind.

The Celtics have won just three of seven after beating the Hornets, 89-85, last night, and they play eight more on the road, making the task of sealing the top spot more difficult.

Not at full speed Two games into his comeback from a right ankle sprain, Delonte West, who had 9 points in 19 minutes last night, said he’s still tentative, being cautious when he lands on the foot. “I’m a little reluctant to be as aggressive as I normally am because of the fear of falling, and also I don’t have my full explosiveness back,’’ West said. “I’m a one-leg jumper; being lefthanded, I only take off on one leg, my right leg. “So not having that explosiveness and the fear of falling makes it hard. It has me playing — I don’t want to say timid — but right now, I haven’t been attacking the basket as hard as I normally do.’’

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

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