Ladies and Gentlemen, We have a Raef Sighting


WALTHAM - He's not among the team leaders in points or minutes, two areas that Raef LaFrentz could well improve on as the NBA season moves along. But here's where he is undeniably at the top of the list for the Celtics: relief. He's playing, he's playing reasonably well ("hot and cold," according to coach Doc Rivers), and he's playing every day, without a lot of pain.

It hasn't been that way for almost two seasons.

   "Aside from the two losses, I feel great," he said yesterday following the Celtics' workout at their practice facility. "I'm moving so much better. I'm feeling so much better. I'm not even really thinking about it. Once you get over that phase, where you can make a hard cut, you can make a hard move, and it's not on your mind, then you're on your way. That's how I feel now."

A healthy LaFrentz is a huge part of the Celtics' plans for 2004-05. He is coming off right knee surgery, an operation that ended his 2003-04 season prematurely (he played 17 games, and those were on one leg) and consigned him to a year of rehab and recovery.

So far, things look good for the ex-Jayhawk. He has started all three games. He is averaging 22.7 minutes. He's shooting 58.8 percent from the field, averaging 5 rebounds a game, and rejecting 1.67 shots along the way.

Maybe those numbers won't have Springfield calling, but they're numbers that Rivers can live with, especially given that LaFrentz is spending more time watching than playing.

"He's doing some things we need him to do," Rivers said. "Him, and the whole team, have to do a better job on the boards. But he's been great on the weak side, blocking shots. There are some things I do like about him. And, healthwise, he looks great."

LaFrentz contributed what Rivers called the basket that "broke the Knicks' back" in Saturday night's rout of New York at Madison Square Garden. The Celtics were leading, 71-49, midway through the third quarter, and with 5:22 left, LaFrentz knocked down a 3-pointer. (He's 2 for 3 from international waters.   "That's what Raef can do," Rivers said.

Rivers said he does not worry about total minutes for LaFrentz (or, for that matter, any player). He's more concerned with stretches, and he tries to limit LaFrentz (as well as Gary Payton and Tom Gugliotta) to shorter bursts. LaFrentz doesn't anticipate playing 23 minutes a game. He figures he's due for more as the season moves along, but he's never averaged more than 32.3, and that was during his abbreviated (12 games) rookie season in 1998-99.

"I think I can play more, but right now, that's where I'm being utilized and I'm fine with that," he said. "The big thing is, I don't want to get behind, to the point where I play 40, play 40, practice hard, play 35, and then get fatigued and start to feel some pain. Hopefully, I'll get the minutes."

. . .

The Celtics had all five men who coached the team to NBA titles in town last night for the second annual Shamrock Foundation Opening Night Gala. One of them, Bill Fitch, says he still watches all the NBA games (no surprise there). He looks tan, rested, and ready . . . The Celtics may be 1-2, but they could easily be 3-0, and the stats (save for rebounding) point to a team that should be better than 1-2. Not counting last night's games, the Celtics were one of only five teams shooting better than 50 percent, and they had the fifth-best scoring differential, the best assist differential, and the third-best turnover differential. "Even though we're 1-2, we've got a pretty good rhythm the way we're playing," Rivers said. "Actually, I think we're far ahead offensively from where I thought we'd be. I'm happy about that." . . . The rebounding is a different story. The Celtics were 28th in total rebounds and 24th in rebounding differential, with opponents gathering an average of 4.33 more boards per game . . . Payton (personal business in Los Angeles) and Paul Pierce (dental work following a facial during the Knicks game) were not at practice yesterday. Both are expected back today, although Rivers said of Pierce, "He'll be quiet." The dental work is believed to be in the same area that Pierce had work following a facial from Amare Stoudemire in December 2002 . . . The Celtics play only twice (tomorrow and Friday) in a 10-day stretch. A lot of coaches would kill for such a break. Rivers isn't one of them. "There's nothing you can do about it," he said. "I don't like it. If this was a team already put together, I would really hate it." Rivers noted that there would be serious schedule payback in December, when the team plays 16 games (it plays 13 this month) and 10 of those 16 are on the road; eight of the 10 roadies are against Western Conference teams.

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