Celtics notebook

They’ve got a handle on it

No big surprise if James brings ball up

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 23, 2010

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It’s not like Doc Rivers didn’t see it coming, it’s just that he got to see it in action.

The Miami Heat played their final preseason game Thursday in Atlanta, and for most of the night they let LeBron James run the show.

Point LeBron.

With the ball in his hands, he dropped 38 points in 38 minutes, grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished out 2 assists.

It’s genius but simple: Give the ball to the best player and let him play.

“The difficult thing is, you can’t deny him,’’ Rivers said. “He already has the ball.’’

Rivers said he has watched six or seven of Miami’s preseason games. He always thought that the Heat playing James at point guard seemed like a logical idea. This one gave him an idea of one of the dimensions he’ll have to deal with come Tuesday when the teams play their season opener.

“On film, it looked pretty good, and we’ll find out on Tuesday,’’ Rivers said. “It’s a card they can play. Very few teams can do it and do it well.’’

Not bothered by the idea of the 275-pound point, Rajon Rondo had the list ready.

“They did it last year in Cleveland,’’ he said. “Wade did it for [Miami] last year. Kobe [Bryant] brings the ball up for the Lakers. It’s really no different. They’re still going to get into their sets. I just won’t be putting the pressure on the ball. It’ll be Paul [Pierce] or Ray [Allen].’’

Aside from gluing the ball to the hands of the best player, the biggest impact will be the change in the Celtics’ ball pressure. Under normal circumstances, Rondo would be able to harass, say, Carlos Arroyo all the way down the floor before Miami had a chance to set up. Rivers said he won’t have Pierce pick up James down the court.

“We’re going to fall back and then guard him,’’ Rivers said.

One thing about the way the game unfolded Thursday, the Heat played eerily similar to the way James’s Cavaliers played in that they largely stood and waited for him to be magnificent. It should look different with a healthy Dwyane Wade in the lineup Tuesday.

“He’s good,’’ Rivers said of James. “Even at point guard he can score. I think he’ll have games where he’ll have big scoring games and then I think he’ll have nights where he’ll have big assist nights. That’s just who he’ll be. That’s who he’s been anyway.

“We’re just going to guard it. I mean, hell, as long as he’s standing way out and passing, I’m good with it. But it does give them a dimension. I actually think he’s a point guard. That doesn’t mean he’s not a scoring point, but I think he has the best vision in the league. To me it just makes sense that Erik [Spoelstra, the Heat’s coach] puts the ball in his hands.’’

On with the show
The hoops world has four more days to slice and dice the Heat-Celtics matchup. Phrases like “Biggest season opener ever’’ will inevitably be thrown around. Rivers reached for something to compare it to.

“There was that Atlanta opener,’’ he said, joking.

The game is big. It’s as big, Rivers said, as when the Celtics unveiled the Allen-Pierce-Kevin Garnett Big Three in a win over the Wizards.

One of the people who isn’t setting his DVR, though? Rondo. The three things he wants to get out it: get the season started, get the game over with, get the win.

“For me, it’s not motivation,’’ Rondo said. “I could care less if people hype it up. I feel like we have the best team. We have yet to prove it, obviously, because we haven’t played yet, but we’re a self-motivated team. We don’t need the attention. We just go out there and play. We could care less if every game we play is on TV or not. We’re going to try to represent and play as hard as we can each night.

“As soon as we get this first game out of the way, I’ll be glad, because all the hype is around this first game. Obviously the Lakers are the defending champs, so they should have the most hype.’’

Working out the kinks
After sitting out the last two games of the preseason, Jermaine O’Neal practiced yesterday. He wore a black wrap around his left wrist, saying that he tore cartilage in it taking a charge early in last Thursday’s win over the Raptors.

“I wanted to get back at it and it felt pretty good today,’’ he said. “I got a little wrap to keep it stable, but I’m not worried about it.’’ He put in extra work with Rondo, Tyronn Lue, Von Wafer, and Luke Harangody trying to get an idea where he should be on certain plays and where Rondo prefers to have picks set for him.

“He went through the whole practice today, so that was good,’’ Rivers said. “But him and Shaq [O’Neal], they’ve still got a lot of work to do, getting all our stuff down. They’re not going to get it all over night. I was more concerned health-wise.’’ . . . Delonte West (back) was held to skeleton drills. Semih Erden is nursing a sore shoulder, but participated in practice.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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