Rotations, Rotations, Rotations

March 1, 2002

WALTHAM - Tick, tock. Tick, tock. The Celtics don't need any reminders that time is of the essence. Everywhere they turn the players find signs that the regular season is speeding toward a dramatic conclusion. Look behind and the Celtics see the victorious Milwaukee Bucks trying to extend their lead in the Central Division. Look ahead and the Celtics welcome the resurgent and relatively healthy Charlotte Hornets tonight. Look around and the Celtics are rushing to reset a rotation with newcomers Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.

During his tenure as coach, Jim O'Brien has been praised for keeping his rotation predictable and defining each player's role. Those qualities have set O'Brien apart from his predecessor, Rick Pitino, whose personnel moves often defied explanation.

   "The challenge is in the rotations," said O'Brien. "That's my challenge. That's not their [the players'] challenge, to get them where everyone's comfortable with when they're going to come in and when they're not. That's going to vary depending on a number of things. It's going to depend on the opponent. It's going to depend on the energy level that an individual is bringing to the table. It's going to depend on whether we're in back-to-back games.

"One of the good things we've done over the last year is that guys know when they're going to play, when they're going to come in and come out. Right now, I'm trying to experiment with different things."

O'Brien was generally pleased with the way players meshed against Milwaukee, despite the loss. He tried to play Rogers with Kenny Anderson, whose experience running the schemes appeared to ease the newcomer's transition. The coach also wanted to use Rogers with Paul Pierce so the frontcourt players could develop chemistry.

Delk felt most comfortable with the other starters, adding after yesterday's workout that with each practice the game plan starts to come more naturally. That's a positive sign, considering O'Brien thought Delk (1 for 8 against the Bucks) was thinking too much, not letting instinct take over as he tried to absorb a new set of plays.

"As a coach, you've got to know the guys that play well together, the guys who make good decisions together," said Delk. "It's just a feeling, and it's his [O'Brien's] first full season, so he's learning just like we're learning what he does on the court. It's veteran guys with a rookie coach, but he's the one who has to juggle and put the right combination out there. It's a hard job to do."

Besides putting Delk and Rogers in the best position to succeed, O'Brien also wants Antoine Walker and Pierce to get more rest before the fourth quarter. The coach was satisfied with the way he rested Walker (16 minutes) in the first half against Milwaukee, allowing the power forward to be fresh for the final period. It was the first time all season O'Brien has had the luxury of playing Walker only 37 minutes, without foul trouble being a consideration.

O'Brien wants to do a better job giving Pierce, who played 41 minutes against the Bucks, more of a break. Meanwhile, Pierce is figuring out how to involve the newcomers with his style of play.

"It's tough," said Pierce, who sat out yesterday's practice because of bone spurs in left foot. "I thought [against Milwaukee] I really kind of went out of my way to involve him [Delk], get him comfortable playing with me. We've got to have him comfortable because we understand that we need those two guys to feel comfortable in our system. . . . to know that I'm going to pass the ball to them. I went out of my way a little bit to where I didn't play as aggressively as I have in the past, but that's something I've got to make a choice about, when it's a good time and when it's a bad time to get them involved. It's difficult trying to work in two new guys, who you know you're going to need."

Looking down the sideline to the Milwaukee bench, O'Brien saw a team that can go eight or nine deep, "which is what we're going to have here in the very near future." But right now, the future cannot come soon enough for the Celtics.

"This is not exhibition season, where you can drop a couple of games and say, 'That's O.K., we're building to what we want two or three weeks down the road,' " said O'Brien. "I understand the challenge that we have of getting things done while you're winning. That's something that I think about quite often over a 24-hour period of time."

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