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Basketball notes

Strength in their numbers

Celtics show they're not a three-man team

Email|Print| Text size + By Peter May
November 11, 2007

We've seen only a handful of games, but, outside of a certain No. 5 and another No. 20, what do we make of the Other Guys? Namely, lads 4-12, who generally were regarded as a shade better than Uruguay?

Well, in the first two home games, the Celtics blew things open in the second quarter when guys named Brian Scalabrine and Eddie House were in the game and guys named Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were mostly on the bench. What was deemed by a lot of people - including de facto commissioner Bob Ryan and yours truly - to be a potential liability has so far been anything but.

As Scalabrine said, "Let me ask you this. If we're one of the top five in defense, what does that say about players 4 through 12?"

Scalabrine and House said they had not heard or read the many disparaging comments regarding the non-Big Three of 2007-08. But Doc Rivers had and, as he put it, "If I know, the players know. From 4 through 12, we're the worst team in the NBA? I've heard that a bunch. I don't have to bring it up with them because if I know, they know. And they have a lot of pride."

The whole bench/depth issue is a nonissue now because, outside of James Posey's cranky back, there hasn't been much of an injury problem. One of the Big Three, usually Paul Pierce, plays with the second unit, in part, Rivers conceded, "because he's used to playing with that kind of group."

One thing the bench has is experience, which is a plus for Rivers. Scalabrine is in his seventh season, his third with Boston. Posey is in his ninth season and has logged 34 playoff games, including 22 for the 2005-06 NBA champion Miami Heat. Scot Pollard has played 10 seasons and has 60 playoff games on his résumé. And House is in his eighth season and - get this - with his eighth NBA team, sixth in the last three years. And he's on a one-year deal here.

"I go where I'm wanted," House shrugged.

But what do the players think about the belittling of the bench?

"People always will have opinions. You can't stop that," House said. "The guys who said that probably never played the game before so, at the end of the day, how can they speak on what the worst 4-12 in the league is?

"I don't think our bench has hurt us. I think the two other starters have done a great job."

House was with the Suns two years ago, and if there were an NBA situation with Eddie House's name on it, you'd think it would be with Phoenix, spotting up and shooting threes. He thought so, too, until the Suns decided to go with Marcus Banks two summers ago. House played for the Nets last season, battling injuries. It still rankles him that a missed free throw allowed the Celtics to stage a remarkable comeback in New Jersey March 3. He prides himself on making free throws.

But Boston soon joined Jersey, Phoenix, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Sacramento, the Clippers, and the Heat as stops on the Eddie House career path.

"Doc gave me a call and there was a rotation spot here and, well, it's nothing to sneeze at," House said. "My bags were packed."

Rivers said Posey and House have brought a new dimension of feistiness to the team, something he welcomes. Before each game, you can see Posey, at halfcourt, giving a bear hug to all the starters along with words of encouragement. House is, well, a motor-mouth. But in a good way.

"Posey and Eddie bring such a swagger to the game, they give juice to the second unit," Rivers said. "Posey talks on the floor and brings an intensity to the game. We lose a lot when he's not around. Eddie never stops. He's a mini-Kevin as far as energy is concerned. He gets the bench going. He's the talker. He's the towel guy. He does it all."

Scalabrine is the veteran on the bench. He may be one of the few players who draws boos when he comes into a game and cheers on the first possession if he happens to make a play deemed noteworthy by the fans. Like Rivers, Scalabrine noted that the bench never plays without one of the studs (unless it's in blowout situations) and he, not surprisingly, takes umbrage at the comments about the reserves.

"We have a playoff bench," Scalabrine said. "By that, I mean you take one of our studs and put the bench around him and I think that's a playoff team.

"When you have a James Posey, and Eddie House to spot up and shoot, and I can play solid basketball . . . but it is hard for us to play without one of those guys. We know we're not going major, serious minutes without one of them out there with us."

Hailing the ailing Pacers

The Celtics get their first look at Indiana Tuesday night. Jim O'Brien got Indy off to a quick 3-0 start, despite mounting injuries that crested last week when the valuable Ike Diogu tore a calf muscle and could be out six weeks.

"It's a shame," said Pacers assistant Dick Harter. "He was playing really well for us. It'll be hard to get him back in the flow."

Harter said the Pacers had a terrific training camp, "the best I've ever been involved with as far as getting players to work and learn."

Indiana led the league in scoring in the preseason as O'Brien, as promised, let the boys run and gun. The early success, however, has been tempered by the fact that Jermaine O'Neal is still not in game shape because of lingering knee woes and Troy Murphy, a Central Casting candidate for an O'Brien-coached offense, is just now getting back on the floor after an Achilles' injury.

"I see a lot of teams are going through the same thing," Harter said. "It makes it tough. But that's the NBA."

One of O'Brien's chief projects has been Jamaal Tinsley, to whom the coach has entrusted the offense. "He's doing well with more freedom," Harter said. "Jimmy likes what he has done."

Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger have been supplying the offense, which ranked 12th entering yesterday's games at 100.6 points a game.

A sure sign of the O'Brien influence: the team is taking slightly more than 20 threes a game, almost a 20 percent increase over last season.

"If we're healthy, I don't see any reason why we can't contend for a playoff spot," Harter said.

This Nugget has been good as gold

Denver coach George Karl likes to tell the story of going to a USA Basketball training camp, before the team that won the FIBA Americas Tournament this summer was picked. Karl said he was talking with an NBA general manager - whom he did not identify - who told him he thought Carmelo Anthony might not even make the team.

"I'm thinking, 'You've got to be crazy,' " Karl said. "Not make the team? He went from that - to being the captain."

Anthony was one of the supernovas on the star-studded USA team, which breezed to the gold medal and earned a spot in the 2008 Olympics. Did that experience benefit Anthony as he started his fifth NBA season?

"No question. Capital letters. Underline it," Karl said. "His professional maturity. There's more respect for the game, for his teammates. There's no question he is more aware of how hard it is to be a special player and the responsibilities that come from being a special player."

Karl said he could not have predicted such a rapid upgrade.

"I don't think anyone could have predicted how fast Melo has grown," he said. "He can do anything he wants."

Asked if he felt he had grown personally and professionally from his USA Basketball experience, Anthony said, "Most definitely. Being captain of that team, being able to be a leader on a team with 12 All-Stars? That made me take a big step.

"It was great to let them guys know how I feel and for those guys to listen, even guys like Jason Kidd and Kobe [ Bryant], guys who have been in the league multiple years. Now, my main goal is to bring that here."

Based on what we saw last week in Denver's loss in Boston, let's just say that Carmelo has his work cut out for him.

Etc.

Business trip
How many All-Star Games have Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, and Emeka Okafor played in? How many All-NBA teams have they been on? The answer to both questions is: Zero. So how can these otherwise lucid gents turn down a cumulative $220 million in contract extensions? Maybe they figure they can get more. But where? Why wouldn't Okafor, a finance major, figure out that no team is going to pay him more than the $12 million-$13 million per the Bobcats offered, especially with his injury history? Who is going to pay Gordon more than $10 million a year, or Deng more than $11.5 million a year? No team is going to offer them that kind of money because the Bulls have a history of not losing restricted free agents, which all four players will be next summer. And do these guys really think there's more money than that in free agency? You have to like Al Jefferson's reasoning in doing what the others didn't and taking $65 million over five years. Now he doesn't have to deal with anything else for six years.

He can bask in success
Old friend David Wesley is chillin' in Houston, finally content in calling an end to a pretty remarkable NBA career. "He told me not to bother making any calls for him. He doesn't want to play anymore," said the redoubtable Frank Catapano, who has represented Wesley throughout. Wesley was traded twice this fall, from Cleveland to New Orleans (for Cedric Simmons) and then from New Orleans to New Jersey in late October, a deal notable for the fact that all three players involved (Wesley, Bernard Robinson, Mile Ilic) were waived within 72 hours. Wesley was on the books for $1.75 million, but only $250,000 was guaranteed, so that was his parting gift from the Nets. He retires as one of only two undrafted players to score 11,000 career points; Moses Malone was the other. Wesley ended up playing an astonishing 15 years in the NBA, the majority of them with the Hornets, both in Charlotte and New Orleans. He was with the Cavaliers last year when Cleveland made its surprising run to the NBA Finals, but never got a chance to play in the 2006-07 postseason. Most recently, Wesley was inducted into the Baylor University Hall of Fame. He turns 37 Wednesday.

Big stuff in China
The Houston-Milwaukee game was must-see TV somewhere Friday night, but it wasn't in Texas or Wisconsin. It was in China, for the first tete-a-tete between Yao Ming and Yi Jianlin. According to CNN International, 19 television channels in China beamed the game to as many as 200 million people. (One Chinese TV station alone reaches more than 200 million households.) Yao, of course, is the main draw. Some of his earlier games have drawn audiences of more than 100 million in China. Yi is the second-best Chinese player to play in the NBA, with apologies to Wang Zhi Zhi and the immortal Mengke Bateer. The Rockets, meanwhile, are quickly becoming a Chinese exporter's dream, as Luis Scola, their rookie from Argentina, announced he was signing with a Chinese shoe and apparel maker. He is the fourth Rocket to do so (although Yao is a Reebok guy). The Toyota Center also announced a sponsorship agreement with a Chinese IT company last week. Incidentally, Friday's game is believed to be the first NBA game featuring players from six continents. (We're still waiting for the first NBA player from Antarctica, which can't be far down David Stern's globalization road.)

Early buzz with Hornets
So what, if anything, can we make of the Hornets' fast start in their return to the Big Easy? Well, frankly, not a lot, although Denver coach George Karl, whose team lost at home to New Orleans, said, "They know who they are. Chris Paul controls the perimeter. [Tyson ] Chandler controls the paint. They have enough other weapons. I tell you, we were as impressed with New Orleans if not more so than we were with Boston." (In fairness, he said that before getting crushed by the Celtics.) The Hornets started fast last year as well (4-0 and 8-3) before being decimated by injuries. This year, Peja Stojakovic (who played only 13 games last season) and Paul (who missed 18) are making their presence felt. Chandler is averaging a double-double (long overdue). And David West averaged 20.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and a block over the first five games.

Watch out for Blizzard
If you're finding it hard to get Celtics tickets these days, you can scratch your basketball itch by attending a Boston Blizzard game. The Blizzard are the local entry of the American Basketball Association and play home games at the Shelburne Community Center in Roxbury. The Blizzard's principal owner and spokesman is Eggie McCrae, a local phenom (the Globe's Division 3 Player of the Year in 1992) who played collegiately at Texas-El Paso. Also in the ownership group: former Boston College/Ohio State star Scoonie Penn and Randell Jackson, who grew up in Boston, played at Florida State, and had a 28-game NBA career with Washington and Dallas. Among the more familiar names on the Blizzard roster are Steve Hailey, who played at BC, and Kenneth Jackson, who played at Iona. "We try to keep the roster with local players so people can identify with them," McRae said. The Blizzard opened their season Nov. 3 with a victory over Quebec and hosted the Montreal Royal yesterday. They play the Manchester (N.H.) Millrats this afternoon at Southern New Hampshire University. For information, the team's website is thebostonblizzard.com.

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

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