The Celtics are once again the Eastern Conference champs. "So what?" you ask. Is that a big deal in this town?
"Very much so," says proud K.C. Jones, who contends that this is his most satisfying regular-season coaching achievement.
Think back to the start of the season. No Kevin McHale. An old team. Rising powers in Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago. Lots of publicity concerning a revived Central Division. Three rookies on the club. In K.C.'s eyes, this was hardly the recipe for a first-place season.
"I didn't expect us to do it this year," Jones says. "But we got great efforts early in the season from Darren (Daye) and Fred (Roberts) and from the rest of the starters. I think back to certain games. The overtime win against New York. The game in Hartford when we were up by 20 on Chicago without Kevin and finally lost. I wasn't sure how good we'd be."
Once again, they were good enough to claim the home-court advantage for all conference playoff series in which they participate. But that's not enough for McHale, whose 33 points helped bury the Pistons Tuesday night and ensured the title.
"Having the home court is nice," he says, "but I can't believe we won't have to win a road game in the East somewhere. We could lose one at home. Anyway, in order to be a true champion, you have to be able to beat a team in its place."
The Celtics have three games remaining in the regular season, and, while they have nothing at stake, they could play a pivotal role in determining their second-round playoff foe (assuming they don't blow the first-round series, of course). They play Chicago at home tonight (7:30, SportsChannel), in Atlanta tomorrow and in Chicago Sunday afternoon. Chicago and Atlanta are locked in a battle for the third and fourth spots in the East. No. 3 will play No. 6 (Cleveland or slumping Milwaukee) and would then play the winner of No. 2 (Detroit) vs. No. 7 (whoever). No. 4 will play No. 5 (Cleveland or Milwaukee) and then play the winner of No. 1 (Boston) vs. No. 8 (whoever).
Boston can help determine that 3-4 placement. Moreover, the Celtics would like to establish a little turf superiority with the Bulls, against whom they are 2-2, and the Hawks, against whom they are 4-1.
"I'd like to see us stay sharp and improve," Jones says. "I'm interested in how consistently well we play. We don't want to let down. We'd like to send Chicago and Atlanta a message."
K.C. called off practice yesterday . . . Michael Jordan arrives in the aftermath of his 17th over-40 game of the season, a 47-point performance against New York Tuesday night. He leads the NBA in scoring, while teammate Charles Oakley clings to his slim rebounding lead.
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