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Rest for the weary

Posted by Scott Souza January 15, 2009 05:56 AM

They braved the withering storm remarkably well for a remarkably long time. Yet, over the past three weeks, it all seemed to catch up to the Celtics just a bit.

All the nights with the bull’s-eyes right in the middle of their home whites and road greens. The eight games in 13 days in November, the six back-to-backs in the first six weeks of the season, the franchise-record winning streak they did their best not to acknowledge, the Christmas trip to Los Angeles, and the dearth of real practice time seemed to take their collective toll.

The bad news is that 19 straight victories led into six losses (five on the road) in eight games. The good news is that, although the targets on their chests won’t go away, the seemingly constant trail from charter flight to hotel to arena, then back home for a day or two at the most, is ending.

With two days off following Wednesday night’s game against the Nets, the Celtics will have their first back-to-back days off that don’t involve a cross-country flight since Dec. 13 and 14. Now they have consecutive days off in three out of four weeks. Figure in eight home games in a 14-game stretch, which includes only two back-to-backs, and that means more rest and more workouts.

“It will give us some consistencies being at home instead of picking up and going, picking up and going, picking up and going,” Ray Allen said following the C’s home-and-home sweep of the Raptors on Sunday and Monday. “It seems we’ve been doing that a lot.”

“I have never in my career played 55 games before the All-Star break,” said Brian Scalabrine, in his eighth year. “That’s 55 games. I think the most I had ever played is 51, and usually it’s about 48. Hopefully, what we’re doing now, grinding it out now, will pay dividends later.”

The grind has made C’s look tired late in several games recently — Monday’s 115-109 OT victory at the Garden being a notable exception — with uncharacteristic defensive lapses, front-rimmed shots, and fourth-quarter struggles. Celtics coach Doc Rivers put a premium on rest through the first three months of the season, but the lack of practice showed up at some inopportune times.

“When you don’t have that much practice time, sometimes your timing gets off,” said Leon Powe. “Your defensive rotations are a little off. We just had to fight through it and go through it the best we can.”

Though Kevin Garnett and Allen — who work out vigorously even on many non-practice days — have embraced the extra team days off over the past two years, others agree some fine-tuning is in order.

“Just a little bit, it ain’t going to be too much, just to get our offensive rhythm back and our flow,” Powe said of extra workouts. “That’s big for us because some of us are rhythm players.
That’s all about timing.”

Said Scalabrine, “It’s going to be great to start getting back out there again. Getting out there practicing lets you work on all the things you are having slippage in. If practice makes you 10 percent better, that’s a pretty big difference in an NBA game.”

Big Red all over
Scalabrine figured to be seeing a lot of extra time recently with reserve swingman Tony Allen (sprained right ankle) out of action for at least two weeks. But when Kendrick Perkins (strained left shoulder) also went down, he instead saw that time in the starting lineup, playing power forward and even center rather than small forward.

Rivers called Scalabrine his “utility guy” this week, and the re-emerging fan favorite said the key to his versatility is to play his game, no matter what position.

“I don’t go into a game with a different mindset at all,” he said. “If I try to replace Kendrick Perkins, it would be impossible for me to be successful. I have to try to play like me, and Doc’s OK with that. Doc wants me to do that. There’s a lot of plays where Kendrick does certain things, I do different things.”

Scalabrine said Rivers has had him work out at several spots in the lineup to keep him ready for just the scenario that unfolded this week, but that he tries to keep his role on the court essentially the same.

“It’s not like I’m Paul Pierce,” Scalabrine said. “I still do what I do — space the floor. Defensively, it’s a little different, but I can adjust to that.”

Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at ssouza@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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