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Patient Ainge won’t push the panic button

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 31, 2011
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While the Celtics’ flaws were painfully apparent during their miserable three-game trip to start the season, team management is preaching patience.

President Danny Ainge is remaining calm, especially since the team had yet to play a game with Paul Pierce prior to last night’s 96-85 victory over the Pistons.

“It’s too early to have any panic,’’ Ainge said yesterday morning.

“At the same time, the players and coaches are anxious to get back on track and start playing better basketball, more consistent basketball. But I think we haven’t been 100 percent [healthy] yet, and we have some things we need to get better at, for sure.’’

The most glaring weakness has been at center. Through three games, starter Jermaine O’Neal was averaging 2.7 points, 3 rebounds, and 20 minutes, and had more personal fouls (13) than points (8). Last night, he scored 19 points (his most as a Celtic), grabbed 7 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots in 29 minutes.

“I don’t think the center position is the reason that we’re 0-3,’’ Ainge said prior to the game. “I think it still comes down to our best players. I always say that and I really believe that. We need our best players to play well, and that’s no guarantee that you’re going to win, but that’s where it starts.’’

Kevin Garnett had yet to impose his will, though he was impressive for a stretch in the opener against the Knicks. He’s averaging 10.7 points this season.

He appeared more energetic last night, although he had just 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists, and didn’t attempt a free throw.

“I’ve watched just about every basketball game that’s been played so far in the NBA [this season],’’ Ainge said. “I’ve watched two games this morning already. There’s a lot of sloppy basketball league-wide. I don’t think any team is playing their best. I think it’s a unique year, obviously with the lockout. And I think there’s a lot people who don’t have their legs underneath them. And I think our team can be a lot better.

“Some players are at the top of their game and some aren’t. And I think that’s understandable. I don’t think anybody is out of shape, I don’t think they are in top, peak-performance shape. You have to play your way into that.’’

Pietrus progressing Ainge said Mickael Pietrus should be ready for game action by the middle of January after July knee surgery.

“It feels great [to be in Boston],’’ Pietrus said. “Since I have been in the NBA, my goal has always been to win a championship, and I have a chance to win one so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got with my new teammates. So hopefully at the end of the year, we get what we want.’’

Pietrus injured his right knee in March while playing for the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were close to trading him to the Raptors earlier this month, but Toronto called off the deal when Pietrus’s knee did not test at full strength.

“The knee is getting better every day,’’ he said. “Getting treatment with the trainer. They don’t want to put me out there right away because they know that the team really needs me, and I really need them, too.’’

Time management Pierce got the start and scored 12 points in 23 minutes. The Celtics will have to closely monitor his minutes early, especially with three games in four days.

“We just have to go by our eyes,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “He’s had one practice this year, and that was three weeks ago, or whenever we started. We’ll just go by eyesight and what he knows offensively and defensively, his rhythm. We’ll just build him up each game.’’

Private tutor Ainge is taking second-year guard Avery Bradley on as his personal project. The two talked extensively before the game, and Ainge has been offering Bradley tips about how to better prepare . . . Garnett is set to become a limited shareholder in AS Roma, an Italian Serie A soccer team, accepting an offer to buy in from Celtics minority owner James Pallotta. Pallotta joined a group that agreed to purchase the club in August . . . Forward Chris Wilcox said his left shoulder is improving and he’s likely to return tomorrow against the Wizards. He has missed two games after being banged up in the Miami game . . . Brandon Bass is second on the team in shot attempts.

Gary Washburn can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashburn14

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