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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

Ankle surgery to shelve Szczerbiak for season

Wally Szczerbiak will undergo season-ending surgery on his left ankle March 8 at New England Baptist Hospital. After seeking second opinions in Los Angeles and Boston, Szczerbiak decided surgery to repair structural weakness in the ankle was the best course of action. Team physician Brian McKeon will perform the operation.

"They're attaching ligaments to tighten up the joint because I have a very hypermobile [ankle] joint," said Szczerbiak. "There's no ligaments on the outside to protect the ankle. They're completely blown out. This procedure will pretty much give me a new ankle, a strong, sturdy ankle. I can move forward with my career and not be worried about when the next step I take is going to be my next sprain."

Szczerbiak, who will be ready to return to action well before the start of training camp in October, suffered his third left ankle sprain late in the first quarter against the Sacramento Kings last Tuesday. Following the latest sprain, Szczerbiak worried the injury indicated a structural problem with the ankle. Coach Doc Rivers said he figured the latest sprain would sideline Szczerbiak for the rest of the season.

"When he went down in the Sacramento game, you kind of knew it was pretty much over," said Rivers. "I didn't know, but it was the assumption. When you hear 'second opinions,' you know he's probably not going to play any more this year."

Still recovering from knee surgery when training camp started in October, Szczerbiak was never fully healthy this season. In addition to the three left ankle sprains, he also sprained his right ankle earlier this year. In 32 games this season, Szczerbiak averaged 15 points and 3.1 rebounds in 28.1 minutes. With the ankle surgery, Szczerbiak will undergo season-ending surgery for the second time in little more than a year with Boston.

Remembering DJ
Prior to last night's Celtics player introductions, a video tribute to Dennis Johnson aired on the jumbotron. The reel of highlights featured memorable plays from Johnson's time with the Celtics, including the winning layup in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit after Larry Bird stole Isiah Thomas's inbounds pass. There also was a moment of silence before the national anthem. The first 5,000 fans received a special commemorative pin with the No. 3.

"He'll be missed," said Thomas, now the Knicks' coach. "I recall Danny [ Ainge] or Kevin [ McHale] said that it's sad that he's gone now and it makes us remember how great a player he was. I wish he would have gotten the recognition for how great a player he was when he alive."

When asked if Johnson belonged in the Hall of Fame, Thomas added: "Oh, most definitely."

Robert Parish, K.C. Jones, and M.L. Carr spoke to reporters at halftime about the loss of Johnson.

"He was able to mash out all those egos on the floor and keep everyone happy," said Parish. "When one guy had a problem, DJ was always the one that went to that player and made everything all right, and that is rare."

Added Jones: "The players had confidence in Dennis as a point guard. They listened to him and it was effective. One of the biggest guys was Larry Bird, who really believed in him. Larry doesn't lie. He likes you or he doesn't like you."

It'll be a long wait
Asked when he thought Paul Pierce would return to top form, Rivers said, "October. It's tough when you miss that much [time]. You're playing catch-up all the time. The problem is you play in these games and you get fatigued, then you try to work out and you get more fatigue." In an effort to help Pierce, Rivers will continue to try and shorten the number of minutes he plays at a time. . . . Rivers acknowledged that the aftereffects of left foot plantar fasciitis continue to prevent Kendrick Perkins from practicing and reconditioning his body the way he would like. "All the time he sat out, he obviously got out of shape. Now, you can't get him back in shape. He's worse than Paul." . . . Rivers went big to match the Knicks' size, starting Al Jefferson and Perkins and bumping Leon Powe to the bench . . . Cedric Maxwell apologized on-air last night for comments critical of official Violet Palmer during the Celtics-Rockets radio broadcast Monday night. Disagreeing with a call Palmer made, Maxwell said she should "go back to the kitchen." In his apology before the Celtics-Knicks game, Maxwell said, "Violet Palmer, as a woman of color, and a woman, she worked extremely hard to get in this position. If I have said anything that might have been insensitive or sexist in any way, then I apologize. Because she has worked extremely hard to get to where she is now." Jason Wolfe, vice president of AM programming and operations for Entercom, called the comments by Maxwell "nothing more than a poor attempt at humor" and cited Maxwell as an "excellent analyst " and "exemplary employee." . . . Al Jefferson tied a career high with five assists . . . Brian Scalabrine helped make sure the Celtics played a strong first half, going 5 for 5 from the floor and 4 for 4 from 3-point range in the second quarter. He scored all of his 14 points in the quarter . . . The Knicks arrived at TD Banknorth Garden with a list of injuries long enough to rival the Celtics'. Jamal Crawford is likely out for the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his right ankle. He probably will undergo season-ending surgery, though no final decision has been made. All-Star slam dunk contest prop Nate Robinson missed last night's contest with a stomach virus. Steve Francis missed his fourth game with right knee tendinitis and his status remains unclear. David Lee did not play because of a sprained right ankle.

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