Nets Drop 4 Straight Out West
March 13, 2002
WALTHAM - All in all, Paul Pierce is happy that he'll be playing even more competitive basketball this summer, for the United States' entry in the World Championships.
All in all, Jim O'Brien would rather Pierce find the nearest beach and chill.
USA Basketball made it official yesterday, announcing that Pierce was one of three NBA players added to the US team. As such, Pierce will be the first playing Celtic to represent a USA Basketball entry since Larry Bird's stint on the original (and only) Dream Team in 1992. (Dominique Wilkins was on the 1994 US World Championship team and had signed with Boston, but had yet to play a game for the Celtics. "Hey, my summer league ends in July," Pierce said yesterday after practice. "I'm going to need something to do for the rest of the summer."
Joining Pierce as add-ons for the Aug. 29-Sept. 8 tournament were his former Kansas teammate, Raef LaFrentz of the Dallas Mavericks, and Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Andre Miller. Seven others had already been named, and Duke's Jason Williams and another yet-to-be-named collegian will round out the squad as alternates. George Karl of the Milwaukee Bucks is the head coach.
"Paul Pierce is a guy who is having an outstanding, MVP-type season," Karl said yesterday in a conference call. "It's not just his scoring that has impressed me. He has become an above-average defensive player. His 3-point shooting speaks for itself. He's one of the best at delivering the dagger."
The timing of the announcement could not have been better for Pierce, who poured in 37 points in Monday's 104-99 victory over the Wizards. He had five treys, including a game-decider with 8.8 seconds left and Courtney Alexander's hand in his face.
Pierce said all the right things yesterday, but O'Brien, admittedly speaking from his heart, wished that Pierce would take some down time. This year, for the first time since 1995, there is likely to be playoff basketball in Boston, and that automatically cuts into summer plans. In recent years, the Celtics could count on five months of free time.
"I would prefer he not play in competitive basketball," O'Brien said. "I'm obviously speaking very selfishly, from a coaching standpoint. I said the same thing when Paul and Antoine [Walker] were chosen to play in the All-Star Game. I said I wished instead that they had rested in the Bahamas. I don't want my words misconstrued. They're very selfish. But it's a great honor for Paul."
O'Brien mentioned that Pierce has been bothered this season by bone spurs in his feet, necessitating some missed practices. Surgery is sometimes required to remove bone spurs.
"They act up," the coach said. "I don't like to use the S-word, but he will do whatever is necessary."
Pierce said the spurs are in both feet and more bothersome in his left.
"I really haven't had too many problems with them," he said. "There have been a couple times when I haven't been able to practice. It's something for down the road. I'll have to take care of them, I know. But it's not something I'm really concerned about right now."
Pierce has yet to miss a game this season and went wire-to-wire last season as well.
. . .
The Celtics practiced yesterday in preparation for tonight's visit from the conference-leading Nets. The teams are 1-1 against each other, with the visitor winning each game. "They're going to be ready," Pierce said of the Nets, who had lost four straight heading into last night's game against Toronto. "They're the best team in the East," O'Brien said. "They're not going to overreact to being on a little bit of a losing streak any more than we did. Everyone has ups and downs over the course of a season. They've built a cushion for themselves." They need that cushion. The Nets have been without starting center Todd MacCulloch since Feb. 22. He's on the injured list with an inflamed plantar tendon in the arch of his left foot. New Jersey was 3-7 in the 10 games he had missed heading into last night . . . O'Brien said he didn't know whether Tony Battie could play tonight but expects him back this weekend at the latest. Battie has missed the last five games (all wins) with a leg injury . . . A victory tonight would put the Celtics 10 games over .500 for the first time this season.
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