On Pro Basketball
BOSTON — Rajon Rondo is young, energetic and wants to play as much basketball as he possibly can.
But the reality is that the Boston Celtics' second-year point guard from Kentucky could quite possibly see his minutes decrease over the next two weeks. Ditto for the rest of Rondo's fellow starters, as the Celtics begin preparing and getting as healthy as possible for the NBA playoffs.
Boston has all but clinched the No. 1 seed throughout the postseason after last night's 92-77 thrashing of the Indiana Pacers in front of a sellout crowd of 18,624 at TD Banknorth Garden. With seven games remaining, the Celtics (60-15) need a victory or a Detroit loss to clinch the best record in the NBA. Meanwhile, at 31-44, the Pacers are now four games out of the final playoff spot in the East.
Considering that all of the Celtics' remaining opponents have a record below .500 (except Washington), it shouldn't be long before Boston does nail down the top spot.
Thus, the Green will have to answer the question that faces every highly-successful NBA team in April: How much rest should the starters get?
"I don't know what's going to happen with playing time over the next couple weeks," said the 6-foot-1 Rondo, who is averaging 10.7 points and 5.0 assists in 30.3 minutes per game. "Doc's (Rivers) going to make that call and I'm sure it will be the right call.
"I'm young, I'm only 22-year-old, so I want to keep playing. But it's up to coach. Either way I'm going to be in the gym getting my work in."
You don't have look too far back to find a team that was victimized by its own success. Last year's Dallas Mavericks won 67 games and clinched home-court throughout the playoffs early in April. However, head coach Avery Johnson opted to rest his nucleus down the stretch, which may have contributed to the Mavs' historic demise in the first round of the playoffs against the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors.
There are certainly two camps on the matter. One that says a team should rest and get healthy while it can. The other side would suggest that breaking a good rhythm is detrimental.
"I don't really worry about it," said Ray Allen in reference to how many minutes he'll play down the stretch. "You just have to take it day by day. Whatever we decide as a team is fine with me. It's all about keeping your body in shape, and that's what we've all done all year."
In his 12th year, Allen is a playoff veteran. There have been years when his team had to fight until the end to make the playoffs, and he's been on teams where the postseason spot was finalized early.
At this point of the 32-year-old's career, reduced minutes in meaningless games may not be such a bad idea.
"In the playoffs, the most important thing is to make sure you get your rest," said Allen.
Looking down the Celtics schedule, Charlotte and Milwaukee probably won't strike up the same excitement and playoff atmosphere that was clearly present in last week's meetings with Phoenix and New Orleans.
However, 15th-year forward P.J. Brown, who was brought to Boston for his experience as much as his presence in the post, believes staying sharp is a must.
"You really have to try to get rest and stay sharp in these final games," said the 38-year-old Brown. "You definitely want to be rested up, but you want to be on top of your game entering the playoffs.
"We don't need any extra motivation during these finals games. We motivate ourselves by wanting to play the best brand of basketball we can on both sides of the floor."
Of course, last night there may have still been a little extra motivation for the C's, who wanted to avoid giving any confidence to a Pacers team that still had a chance of meeting the C's in the first round.
It's always good to put away an inferior opponent, which very well may be another tool Boston uses to stay sharp over the next two weeks.
Matt Langone is an Eagle-Tribune sportswriter.
Celtics 92, Pacers 77
Milestone night: Boston won its 60th game for the first time in 22 years
Most improved: The C's equalled the NBA record for improvement in a season. They went from 24 wins to 60, while the Spurs went from 20 to 56 wins in Tim Duncan's rookie year. The C's have five games to beat the record.
Double-double: Kevin Garnett had 20 points and 11 rebounds
Up next: Saturday at Charlotte, 7 p.m.