TOM ENLUND Celtics draw leisurely pace next 41 games

The Boston Celtics have done the math and they like the result.

In reaching the halfway point of the season, coach Doc Rivers and Co. have calculated that it took them 79 days to play those first 41 games. A much more leisurely schedule awaits the defending NBA champions, as they will play the final 41 games in 91 days.

Boston has played four more games than the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Celtics think the schedule could work in their favor as they try to hold off the team that is most likely to challenge them for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

"It'll help us big," said Rivers. "It was just a tough beginning for us. We had a lot of games squeezed into a short period of time."

There will be 10 times in the second half of the season when Boston has at least two straight days off. That includes a six-day layoff over the all-star break. In the past, the Celtics often have had to practice on the Monday after the break and then play Tuesday. But this season they don't play until the Thursday after the break, when they are at Utah in the first game of a four-game Western trip.

Rivers hopes to be able to practice and give his players some valuable rest on the off days in the second half.

"For me, it'll be great if we can rest," he said. "But more importantly, we get practice time the rest of this year. There's a stretch in February where it's tough. Other than that, we actually get to practice the rest of the season and that'll make us a much better Basketball team."

Said Paul Pierce, "We talk about that (schedule). We hope it'll pay off in the long run, especially toward that stretch of the season we'll be able to get more rest. We've crammed in so many games. I believe we've played more games than anybody in the league. It will pay off in the long run, especially going into playoff time."

Going into Friday's games, Boston and the Milwaukee Bucks had played a league-high 41 games each.

Despite enduring a recent losing stretch, the Celtics still like their position in the East.

"We have a great record," said Rivers. "Young guys are improving. The bench has been up and down, but it's shown improvement. Before the year, if someone had said our record would be where it's at, I wouldn't complain about it. I'm happy."

Oh, Danny

It will be interesting to see if Indiana forward Danny Granger finds his way onto the Eastern all-star team. He is fifth in the league in scoring and has scored at least 30 points in 11 games, but the coaches have shied away from naming players from losing teams as all-star reserves. Since 1985-'86, only three players who were among the top five scorers at the all-star break were not selected to play in the All-Star Game.

Coach Jim O'Brien says he will get on the phone with the other coaches on Granger's behalf, if necessary.

"If I have to call people, I certainly will to make sure they have the pertinent facts in front of them," said O'Brien. "He's definitely an all-star player. I just hope he has a chance to be on the team."

Star wars

A similar situation is arising in New York, where the Knicks haven't had an all-star since 2001, when Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell were named. A groundswell of support for Knicks forward David Lee has begun to surface in the Big Apple, and coach Mike D'Antoni was asked about Lee's chances of being an all-star.

"I think a big factor is we're 15-22," he said last week. "Before we get all-stars, we're going to have to turn our record around."

Driving the bus

The Celtics are now painting a happy face on their recent losing streak, saying hitting a few bumps in the road will benefit them.

"Maybe it's something we needed to give us a gut-check," said Pierce. "It's something we've never had because the regular season went so well for us a year ago. Losing games out West, being on the bus, being in the hotels, you find out more about each other. . . just getting to know one another just a little bit better than in the past because it was such a smooth ride a year ago."

He's the doorman

The 76ers have been winning without the injured Elton Brand, which has raised questions in Philadelphia about what will happen when Brand does return. Will the 76ers' play falter if they go through an adjustment period when he comes back? Will Brand be able to regain the high level of play that earned him the $79.8 million free-agent contract with Philadelphia?

"Trust me, don't throw Brand out the door," said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. "Because he's going to help that Basketball team win a lot of games. I promise you that."

Just one shot

Oklahoma City was the league's leading rebounding team during a six-game stretch that was capped with a victory over Utah in which the Thunder out-rebounded the Jazz, 48-26. Cleaning the glass has been an emphasis of Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

"Scottie has been preaching in order to win we've got to get stops and get rebounds," said forward Jeff Green. "We're not the type of team that can just go out each game and outscore our opponent. . . . We've taken it upon ourselves that it's one shot and out."

Now he's hobbling

Before Utah's C.J. Miles sprained his right ankle in a game against New Orleans, he had been the only Jazz player to appear in every game this season.

That will make this season the first in 29 years that Utah will not have at least one player appear in every game. That goes all the way back to 1978-'79, when Rich Kelley led the team in games played with 80.

That's ridiculous

The Darius Miles mess has caused quite a stir, especially the way the Portland Trail Blazers threatened to sue any team signing Miles because it could cost them $18 million in salary-cap space. The Grizzlies signed Miles anyway, and when the Cavaliers were in Memphis last week, even LeBron James weighed in on the matter.

"It seemed like the way Portland handled the situation was completely wrong," said James. "There was a way they could have handled it better. We were surprised they could come out and say something like that. . . a threat to the other owners. That's crazy. I've never heard anything like that. That would never work. For them to do that is absurd."

Party time

In an attempt to improve their foul shooting, the San Antonio Spurs have started a free-throw drive after practice in which every player pledges to shoot a certain number of free throws and the total is posted in the practice gym. The goal is to get to 10,000 attempts, and they are approaching the halfway point. The only problem is no one seems to know what happens when and if they reach their goal.

"I'm curious myself," said center Matt Bonner. "Something good, I hope. Like a party at Chuck E. Cheese."

Fast breaks

* Charlotte coach Larry Brown has told the portly Sean May that he won't be activated until he drops 10 pounds down to 260.

* With Ryan Anderson and Brook Lopez in the starting lineup, the Nets are starting two rookies for the first time since March 2002, when two first-year players named Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson were starting.

* Orlando has pulled off a trade before the deadline in six of the past seven years, with 2007 the exception.


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Added: January 18, 2009