Mercer Iffy Against Kings

February 15, 1999

 WALTHAM - He will step on the Arco Arena court in one of two modes tomorrow. He could face the Kings as Ron Mercer, the shooting guard. Or he might just return for his fourth consecutive game as Ron Mercer, astute assistant coach.

Yesterday at Brandeis, the Celtics' shooting guard was practicing his first job. He wore sneakers, shorts, and a right-knee brace for his injured medial collateral ligament. He and his teammates had one thing in common: all were sweating from an extended practice.

"I can't move like I normally do, but I move a lot better than I did for the opening game - which is an improvement," he said. "I can't wait until I get the brace off. The knee is not going to be completely healed for another couple weeks, so I'll just have to go with the brace."

And if Rick Pitino decides he is not ready to face the Kings tomorrow, Mercer will go back to being a suit on the bench. He will go back to being a coach.

"I've actually learned a lot by sitting out," he said. "I'd rather play, but I have learned a lot. Last week, I felt like an assistant coach. I got to see things develop before they happened. I do feel like an assistant coach a little bit, but I don't want to feel like it anymore."

But like any good sideline instructor, Coach Mercer watched the games and took mental notes. He said he now understands why Pitino and Jim O'Brien are always stressing defensive rotations. He also has pulled rookie Paul Pierce aside a few times and schooled him about fouls because "he gets cheap fouls every game. It's not necessarily his fault, it's just things that [ officials] call." So Mercer will tell the rookie to watch the hand checks and pay attention to the rotations. Mercer also got an in-game education from Penny Hardaway.

"He doesn't rely on his jump shot," Mercer said of the Magic guard. "Most of the time everybody respects him because of his outside shot. He just goes right to the basket and takes it strong, trying to get to the free throw line. I've learned a lot, just by sitting back and watching what some of the older guys do."

If his knee isn't hurting tomorrow, Mercer will try to do what no NBA coach does - play in a game.

Stop the presses

Don't look for the pressing, scrambling Celtics in the next few weeks. "We couldn't do that [ for an entire game] ," Pitino said. "We would all be at Baptist Hospital the next day. So we press by units and pick our spots." . . . Did someone slip a reverse-your-rave pill into Pitino's cola? While in Miami, the coach said he was ecstatic about Popeye Jones's influence on the Celtics. He even rewarded the forward with a start against the Heat. This is what Pitino said yesterday: "With Popeye and Dwayne [ Schintzius] and maybe one other guy, we're looking forward to next year, not this year. Popeye can help us in spot situations with his intelligence and his character. But he's not ready to play basketball." . . . The Celtics were in Florida for parts of six days, but they didn't stay long enough for Jones. He is a huge NASCAR fan and didn't get a chance to see the Daytona 500 . . . The team's media relations staff has released this season's media guide. Pitino is on the cover for the second year in a row (last season he shared half of the headliner's spot with Red Auerbach) . . . Pitino had the line of the day when, assessing the Kings' lineup, he referred to Jason Williams as Pete Maravich. Williams is a rookie point guard from Florida who has been known to throw bounce passes between his legs. Everything Williams does has a flair to it, even his nickname (White Chocolate) . . . According to Pitino, the player most helped by the long week of practices was Tony Battie. "He's really coming on," Pitino said of Battie, who turned 23 last Thursday. "He had a wonderful practice. You'll see that as he learns, he'll be a much better player. He has great athleticism."

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