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Celtics try to make the most of the least

Short on bodies, they get work in

Ray Allen enjoys some additional hang time by grabbing onto the rim following his dunk during practice yesterday. Ray Allen enjoys some additional hang time by grabbing onto the rim following his dunk during practice yesterday. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 12, 2011
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WALTHAM - It’s difficult to determine how the lockout treated the Celtics’ aging bodies because Doc Rivers has not had an opportunity to run a full-court scrimmage with his squad. Attempting to make trades, the slowness of the league office in clearing deals and signings, and minor injuries have robbed Rivers of that opportunity.

So the Celtics coach is banking that the Big Three have taken care of themselves during the long layoff, and that premonition appears accurate. Kevin Garnett looks as lean and nimble during early workouts as last season. Paul Pierce appears in solid shape but has been bothered by a right heel injury, while Ray Allen’s playing weight appears less than his rookie season 15 years ago.

The Celtics’ season begins in 13 days against the Knicks, who just acquired defensive-minded center Tyson Chandler to join Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, and they have done little to prepare because of lack of available bodies.

So working into basketball shape and then learning the offense and gaining chemistry will be a two-week cram that could leave the club overwhelmed and skittish during the early season.

“You can have a practice but the problem is we haven’t had a scrimmage at all,’’ Rivers said. “It’s three days in a row now we’ve yet to go up and down five-on-five with your players. That’s three days that we missed already in camp.’’

Without Brandon Bass, whose trade to the Celtics has been held up because Von Wafer is involved and has yet to report to Orlando, and rookies JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore being held out, the Celtics who need to learn Rivers’s system most are getting the least opportunity.

Meanwhile, Rivers isn’t learning much about his squad with half-court drills and free throw practice.

“The good thing is we have decided when we get everyone we can go all the way back and start all over,’’ he said. “You have to because you want everyone learning at the same pace.’’

The five-month lockout forced a situation in which free agency and training camps began simultaneously. Some teams began Friday with six signed players. Teams such as Toronto and Miami spent the weekend signing players by raiding the free agent scrap heap and the NBA Developmental League.

“We’re not the only ones,’’ Rivers said. “I heard [another NBA] coach say, ‘Hey, we got our 12 guys.’ I know one team that has five or six. We’re better than them. Again, it’s what it is. I told our guys no excuses.’’

Allen and the rest of those allowed to work out understand the situation caused by the labor strife. Commissioner David Stern said the league would need a month to prepare for the season and it appears teams will need every moment because very few rosters, including the Celtics’, are cemented.

“Yeah, the way things have taken shape in the last couple of weeks have been a disadvantage to the players,’’ Allen said. “And we put ourselves in this situation. All we have to do now [in this situation] is make sure the guys that are here and on the floor are putting themselves in position to get in the best shape they can possibly get in.’’

The early season could be a real growing process for the newcomers, and the Celtics’ product in March could be dramatically different than the one that begins the season with three road games in four nights.

“One of the things I’ve known for most of my career is early in the season you tend to miss shots, you get tired, mentally you make mistakes in the fourth quarter,’’ Allen said. “So whatever we can do to improve our conditioning early, it’s important for all of us.

“[This roster shortage] is something that I’ve never experienced before but I think having been around for so many years, the one lesson I’ve learned is you can never get too comfortable. Things aren’t always going to be the way you expect them to be. I think the smart player - the smart person knows how to adapt to everything. I just try to improve the situation we have in front of us.’’

The one advantage the Celtics have during this compacted training camp, Allen said, is the experience of Rivers, who is perceptive and familiar enough to know exactly what the club requires to be prepared for Christmas Day in New York.

“More importantly is having a coach that’s been around,’’ Allen said. “You know how not to push your guys and what to expect. You remember how guys’ bodies felt the last [lockout] and I think we have one stretch where we have so many games [on the road], we kind of know what it’s going to be like in advance, so whatever you could do to build up that equity early.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashburn14

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