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An early glimpse of future

Mike Fratello said he saw something in the seven years he coached Doc Rivers in Atlanta. He saw a future NBA head coach.

"I knew he was going to be a coach," Fratello said last night, before his Memphis Grizzlies dropped a 90-88 decision to Rivers's Celtics at the Whatever Floats Your Center. "He had that inquisitive mind. And he always had a passion for the game. He's one of those people who could see beyond the end of his career."

Rivers said he didn't start to think about coaching until the end of his playing career, when he was with the Knicks and playing for Pat Riley. Until then, Rivers said, he figured he'd be a broadcaster. Did he ever think about coaching while playing in Atlanta?

"No, that was too early in my career," Rivers said. "I've always said, `Coaches coach and players play.' " He hastened to add that it was very difficult to be a rookie point guard for a demanding coach such as Fratello. Almost as hard as being a rookie point guard for a demanding coach such as Doc Rivers, he later conceded.

Fratello was making his first head coaching appearance in Boston since the lockout season of 1998-99, the last of his six seasons in Cleveland. He had remained involved with the league with various television gigs, the latest being with the Miami Heat, so he had an idea of what he was inheriting in Memphis.

"The thing you don't know is the personnel," Fratello said. "You really don't know what's going to happen until you take on the job."

He seems to have figured it out. Despite a rash of injuries, Fratello has won 18 of his last 24 games. Since taking over for Hubie Brown shortly after Thanksgiving, Fratello has a 25-12 record.

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The Celtics activated Al Jefferson, ending the rookie's 10-game stint on the injured list. He played only three minutes, scoring 2 points and grabbing a rebound. "Just putting on the uniform felt great," Jefferson said. "It felt really good to be out there, even sitting on the bench." Rookie Justin Reed took Jefferson's spot on the IL with (pick your injury). Rivers said he waited until he saw Jefferson yesterday morning to make a decision and when the medical news came back positive, the move was made. "Three or four days ago, I didn't see this happening," said Rivers. Jefferson sprained his right ankle Jan. 26 against the Pacers and the Celtics were 6-4 in his absence. Last night, he had both ankles taped for the first time. "I hate tape," he said . . . The normally mild-mannered Raef LaFrentz was tossed with 2:46 left in the third quarter. He was called for a dubious foul on a night of many dubious fouls. He subsequently protested too much, however, and got the gate. Paul Pierce also picked up a technical. Referees Mark Wunderlich, Matt Boland, and Tom Washington were brutal. They called 54 fouls and the game went 2 hours 28 minutes . . . The Grizzlies were without Pau Gasol (plantar fasciitis) and James Posey (Achilles' strain), and then lost Stromile Swift in the third quarter with a sprained ankle. At that time, Swift was one of the few Grizzlies breaking a sweat, and his 19 points led the team. Jason Williams returned from a one-game absence (sore foot) and was back in the starting lineup. Memphis's top seven scorers have missed a combined 61 games. The Celtics' top seven have missed 12, and 10 of those belong to Jefferson, the No. 7 scorer . . . The Celtics got very little out of Marcus Banks or Delonte West (12 combined minutes, 0 points, 2 turnovers). Gary Payton (13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists in 37 minutes) is looking more valuable by the day . . . The Celtics will spread far and wide today as their All-Star break begins. Rivers's plan is to go home to Florida, watch a little tape of the Lakers and Nuggets, and -- surprise, surprise -- play some golf.

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