When the Celtics practice, Doc Rivers always sees that the players are given a chance to rest. Well, not all of them. Al Jefferson still keeps working, trying to get back into shape, regardless of what his teammates are doing.
"I'm sure he thinks it's for some other reason," Rivers said. "But it's not. He's not in shape."
No, he's not. But the Celtics' present-day backup power forward and potential dominator of the future is, as they say, getting there. As he succinctly put it yesterday, "Game by game, practice by practice, my conditioning is coming."
Jefferson missed much of training camp recovering from an ankle sprain and, nearly three weeks into the regular season, is still not 100 percent. But while the conditioning is close, there's the matter of Jefferson's defense, which, according to Rivers, is not getting there.
The coach yesterday said Jefferson needs to become "serviceable," which is not to be confused with being a candidate for the All-Defensive Team.
You wonder why Big Al only played nine minutes Friday night against Toronto? It wasn't because of conditioning or missed layups (he was 1 of 4). It was because his coach felt he was getting abused at the other end.
"He's gotta be more consistent at both ends," Rivers said. "Offensively, when he gets the ball, he has proven he's pretty good. Defensively, he has to become serviceable. Al didn't play the other night because he missed those layups; Al didn't play the other night because every time he came in, Toronto clearly went right at him and they got something.
"You have to hold your end up if you're going to play."
Jefferson's minutes chart so far looks a bit like Wall Street in 1929. Before Friday night's veritable cameo, he played 18 minutes against Seattle. The game before, 16 minutes. The game before that, 11 minutes. The game before, 31 minutes, a season high. Overall, he's averaging 16.3 minutes a game. Into that span of time, he crams 5.2 rebounds and 7.1 points.
"Offensively, I can score on anybody," Jefferson said. Clearly, the lad is not lacking in confidence.
"I'm going to have bad nights when I can't score, but as long as I play defense and rebound, there ain't nothing much more Doc asks me to do," Jefferson added. Doc also wouldn't mind if Jefferson stayed out of foul trouble, as Big Al averages a foul every 5.4 minutes. It was much worse in the exhibition season a foul every 3.8 minutes.
Jefferson is not the only Celtic struggling at the defensive end. The team has given up an average of 107 points a game over the last three games. The Pistons (115 points on 51 percent shooting) and the Sonics (113 points on 51 percent shooting) both showed little trouble scoring. Toronto scored only 93 points and shot woefully (39.3 percent) and still had a chance to pull it out at the end.
"Our guys are pretty comfortable with what we're doing defensively, but we do have a lot of breakdowns, so we have to get better with it," Rivers said. "We defend in spurts. For us to be a good team consistently, we have to be a consistent defensive team."
Change is in the Air Department: The Celtics will unveil a new uniform for their next home game, a tilt against the Charlotte Bobcats the day after Thanksgiving. Boston is believed to be the last NBA team to adopt a so-called third uniform. The new jerseys will be green, like the ones the team wears on the road. The difference will be that there will be black trim and black lettering with the word "Boston" on the front instead of "Celtics." The new look is supposed to approximate what the Celtics teams wore in the 1946-47 and 1947-48 seasons, their first two in the NBA. The team did not know how many other times the retro jerseys would be worn this season . . . The Celtics and officials from WRKO are scheduled to chat today. The topic of discussion: what to do about tomorrow night's 7 p.m. start in Cleveland (and, perhaps, the others that start at 7 p.m. in the East). The team moved back the start of all of its home games to 7:30 p.m. this season so it could have a 30-minute pregame show. But with a 7 o'clock tipoff in Cleveland, what may well happen is a brief pregame show because 7 p.m. games generally tip off around 7:10. There's also the possibility of no pregame show. WRKO runs Howie Carr's talk show from 3-7 p.m. . . . Ricky Davis handed out some 300 turkeys to needy families Saturday at the Roxbury YMCA . . . TheCeltics will be facing a red-hot Cavaliers team tomorrow night. Cleveland has won seven straight, including a 123-120 decision against the Sixers in Philadelphia Saturday night that featured LeBron James's fifth career triple double: 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. "When he lets the game come to him and gives the ball up and plays with everybody, he's as good as anyone in the league," Rivers said of James.