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On basketball

Preaching what they practice: Less is more

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / March 14, 2008

Doc Rivers can't tell you how many wins his team has, how far in front of the Pistons it is, how many games there are to be played, or any other statistic or number that so many of us find so meaningful. But he can tell you the exact time and place of the Celtics' next practice: one week from today in Dallas.

That would be more than two weeks since their last practice.

Forget the old saw about how you get to Carnegie Hall. The Celtics are riding a 10-game winning streak, playing what might be their best basketball of the season, have all of their key guys in reasonable shape, and have, for the time being, eschewed the idea of a conventional practice. There wasn't one yesterday. Or Tuesday. Rivers points to the compacted schedule, the travel, and the need to preserve aging bodies for what everyone hopes and assumes will be a long march in May and June.

That's fine with Ray Allen.

"The way we conduct business is the way all teams should conduct business," Allen said. "At this stage of the season, there's really not a whole lot you can get accomplished. Why risk having the players get tired? You don't want that. And by not having practice, what that does is it drives everyone to get to the gym to get their own work in anyway. Believe me, there's no sense of anyone wanting to stay home all day."

And that is what happened yesterday and that is what happens on most offdays. A handful of players arrived for on-the-court work, especially newcomers Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown, and the rookies.

Said Rivers, "Baby [Glen Davis] comes in every day. If he didn't, he'd be a bigger baby." Bada-bing. Then, Rivers said, "Sorry, guys. That was the best I could do."

The rest of the veterans report if they so desire - and, as Allen noted, they all desire. It's a routine, whether they hear Rivers's voice or the dulcet tones of the strength and conditioning coaches.

"On optional days, guys come in on their own, get their extra running in, shots up, weightlifting," said Kevin Garnett. "Just because we call it a day off from practice and we aren't all organized doesn't mean guys don't come in. We've got about nine or 10 guys that get their daily [work] and stay consistent. Paul [Pierce] and I are no different from that. So even though we're not up and down [the floor] beating each other up, we get in there, keep the rhythm, keep the things we've been doing throughout this year consistently. It's an offday. If you want to take it or you need it, you can. But, for the most part, guys come in and get their work in."

For all teams, there's generally a relaxation on the number of practices and the length of practice as the season wears on. Rivers, for instance, almost never has a practice on the day after the second game of a back-to-back. But this season, owing to the veteran makeup of his team and the realization it has a chance to go far into the postseason, he also has substantially pulled back on what normally would have been obvious days for practice.

Like yesterday. The Celtics last saw tonight's opponent, Utah, on their post-Christmas trip through the West. That was before the Jazz caught fire after incorporating Kyle Korver into their rotation. That was with Andrei Kirilenko injured. But Rivers and Co. will deal with the Jazz this morning in what looks to be an extended shootaround.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has been using a similar approach for the last couple of years, only he tends to go in the opposite direction by canceling the shootaround. If the Spurs have a day to prepare for their next opponent, they will usually practice. Then, there is no shootaround on the day of the game.

Popovich said he finds cutting back on this sort of thing useful not only in preserving his players' bodies, but also in uncluttering their minds.

"Going through it on a five-on-five basis, taped and aggressively, is, I think, a better way to prepare for an opponent than not being taped, standing around, and walking through things with no timing," Popovich said. "It's also one less appointment the players have to keep, one less appearance they have to make. To lighten up the mental side is good. If, on the day before, you went through it in a more efficient, aggressive, realistic way anyway, why do you have to come back the next day and do it in a less efficient, less aggressive, less realistic way? I think it's copycat stuff. I don't think it makes any sense."

Lest the Celtics think that Rivers is going Easy Street on them, they would be advised to know that the coach already has google-eyes on April - and not because the schedule is, well, appealing. There are two two-day stretches between games in the first week of the month. The coach already has practices planned for some of those days.

"We started doing this [not practicing] two weeks ago when we played a bunch of games," Rivers said. "Our thought is getting into April where we have two days between games when we can get back to practicing a lot. When we get off the [Texas] trip, that's when we can get back to having practices."

So, until next Friday fellas, enjoy the downtime. Then it's back to work, unless, of course, the coach changes his mind.

Peter May can be reached at pmay@globe.com.

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