Another day off? Sure. Celtics coach K.C. Jones liked what a few days of rest last week produced, particularly Sunday's gem, when Boston efficiently dispatched the 76ers in Philadelphia's Spectrum, 117-108.
In that game, which stretched the Celtics' winning streak to seven, Boston shot a sizzling 66 percent from the floor in the second half. But the thing that pleased the coach most -- and ultimately produced a day of leisure for the troops yesterday -- was aggressive, active defense that rendered Charles Barkley and his struggling Philly teammates helpless when the game was on the line.
"It's coming from the defensive end, and that's a new mode for us," said Jones yesterday. "It's something we hadn't really concentrated on before.
"When we had those four days off, you worry about getting rusty in your shooting, your passing or your timing. But rustiness never sets in on defense. Our guys started out that Philly game with hard-nosed defense, and that's what we've got to use as our foundation."
Boston's defensive intensity has been markedly improved in recent outings. Not coincidentally, the playoffs are a little more than two weeks away. You don't need to be an expert on the intricacies of the game to understand that the Celtics are hunkering down and preparing for the postseason.
"We're in the playoffs now," said Jones. "We came into Philadelphia, and Barkley was talking in the papers before we played 'em how it was a do-or-die situation for them. I knew going in they'd be 12 feet high trying to beat us.
"And it's going to be like that the rest of the way. We've got Milwaukee Wednesday, and they're fighting to keep their spot in the playoff order, then Cleveland, then Washington. Everyone we meet now, it's crunch time for them."
The Celtics are enjoying crunch time a lot more this season than last, primarily because there are significantly fewer health problems to cloud their postseason chances. Last year, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale limped their way through the playoffs, while their fellow starters dealt with various bumps and bruises.
The starting quintet appears to be much better prepared for the long playoff haul this time.
McHale did give the locals a scare Sunday when he came down wrong and his left ankle buckled, forcing him to leave the game before halftime. But the slight sprain was not serious, and he returned to torch Philadelphia for 24 points.
In fact, McHale's injury was so slight he didn't even bother to report to trainer Ed Lacerte yesterday. Lacerte's only customer was Jim Paxson, who has been experiencing some soreness in his Achilles' tendon.
"I talked to Kevin," said Lacerte, "and there's minimal swelling and no pain with walking. It's just a mild ankle sprain, and there's no reason why he can't play Wednesday."
Thus, the only intrigue in the final seven games appears to be the Bill Walton Watch, an ongoing process in a perpetual "day-to-day" status.
"I've talked with Bill and expect to see him at practice (today)," said Jones. "There's nothing new there. When he walks in and says, 'Here I am, I'm ready to go,' then that's when we'll go. But there's no hurry to get to that point."
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