1988 NBA Playoffs: Walton's Return Remains Unsettled


The four-day respite is over, and so are the Celtics' scrimmages at Hellenic College.

If the Celtics work over the New Jersey Nets tonight (7:30, SportsChannel) at Boston Garden the way they pounded each other yesterday, they'll probably extend their winning streak to six games.

"After this," said guard Dirk Minniefield, "I'll be happy to play in a regular game. It was getting pretty tough out there. I'm sore."

Minniefield wasn't alone.

Forward Fred Roberts took an accidental poke early in the workout and needed two stitches to close the wound. He returned later in the day wearing goggles and may don them tonight.

The only absentee was Bill Walton, who played 16 consecutive minutes in Wednesday's scrimmage, but restricted himself to biking and weight work yesterday.

Don't get worried about the fact that the center missed yesterday's court session. Walton's absence may have indicated a recurrence of his nagging foot problems, but according to trainer Ed Lacerte, any flare-up was "nothing substantial."

In fact, there was speculation that the big redhead -- who underwent foot and ankle surgery last summer -- would be activated tonight for the first time since last year's playoffs.

All Walton would say yesterday was that "I'm feeling a lot better." But he left the rest open to interpretation.

He came into the gym during the scrimmage, sat in a chair for about 10 minutes, then went back upstairs to work out.

"He's just getting some rest and recuperation time," said coach K.C. Jones. "He's gone pretty hard the last couple of days."

General manager Jan Volk said yesterday he couldn't predict when Walton would return to the lineup. "He pushed himself hard this week and now he's backed off a bit," said Volk.

Kevin McHale, who knows what it's like to come back from surgery, said people shouldn't get too excited about the prospect of Walton's return to peak form at this point.

"It's unfair to Bill and it's premature," said McHale. "We have yet to find out what Bill can do. You can't play until you're physically ready, and I don't think Bill is physically ready right now.

"Everybody remembers how fantastic he was in 1986, but nobody knows what Bill can do now. I don't think Bill knows. He's been a great player and he's made some remarkable recoveries," said McHale, "but practice and games are two different things."

Jones said the Celtics are rested and ready to go against an improving Nets team that shocked Boston the last time they played at the Garden, 117-107, on March 2.

"They're playing with a lot more confidence and fluidity under Willis (Reed)," said Jones.

The Nets won four of their first five games and are now 6-13 under the former Knick great.

Reed's team is playing better defense and showing a balanced attack. The fatigue factor may come into play because the Nets, who were at Atlanta last night, will be playing their fifth game in seven days.

All's fair in the NBA, because the Celtics were playing their fourth game in six nights on March 2. Now they're the rested team.

"There's only so much you can do with such a long rest," said Jones. "It's difficult. The best thing you can do is just run and get the conditioning in."

Robert Parish, who missed two days of practice because of a knee strain, participated in yesterday's workout . . . The Celtics have won four of five games against the Nets this season, and tonight marks the series finale . . . The Celtics' next game is Sunday at Philadelphia . . . The Celtics must go 8-1 to win 60 regular-season games for the 12th time.

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