Bad times in Boston
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
Legendary centre Bill Russell recently turned 70 and he still looks pretty good, so maybe the Boston Celtics should consider getting him back into uniform.
That is, if Celtics general manager Danny Ainge hasn't traded Russell's rights.
As the witness-protection program otherwise known as the NBA Eastern Conference playoff race plods along, it is becoming apparent that the sagging Celtics are one team the reeling Raptors may not have to worry about.
The Celtics, 23-35, have lost six games in a row and are 1-11 since John Carroll was handed the head-coaching reins by default when Jim O'Brien quit in disgust. O'Brien was of the opinion that Ainge had gutted the team with a series of questionable trades, and the Celtics' performance of late suggests that if Ainge indeed has an overall plan, it's still in the formative stages.
To be fair, the Celtics' past four losses occurred on a tough West Coast swing. But the way the Celtics played this past weekend in back-to-back 21-point losses at Portland and Seattle had Ainge and his star player, Paul Pierce, shaking their heads, albeit for different reasons.
Ainge thinks his club is using the one crutch at its disposal.
"It's the old Bill Parcells line: 'If you give players a reason to lose, they will,' " Ainge said.
"Raef LaFrentz shutting down (because of injury), Vin Baker (having his contract terminated because of alcohol abuse), Jim O'Brien quitting, the trades -- those all are reasons to lose. And those are the things guys are leaning on. I know this isn't easy, but I'm frustrated they haven't fought through some of this."
Pierce suggested it's hard to fight through things when your boxing trunks keep falling down around your ankles.
"Guys don't know what they're doing," Pierce lamented. "When you have no continuity, no organization and you go out there like it's a pickup game, this is what's going to happen. We're just throwing it out the window."
Of course, in the East most of the windows are at ground level, so it's hard to damage something even if you throw it out. As ridiculous as this sounds when we're talking about two teams that are well south of the .500 mark, the home-and-home series between the Celtics and Raptors this Friday and Sunday could have serious playoff ramifications.
"Things are hard right now, but I'm still not frustrated when I look at the big picture," said Ainge, who apparently is the only one who can see it.
In the meantime, just to be safe, the Raptors should contemplate how they're going to defend Russell.
Another Eastern team being accused of having made too many changes is the New York Knicks, whose fans are in an uproar after two consecutive home losses to the Utah Jazz and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Knicks looked great for a while after president Isiah Thomas began his retooling, but they've lost four of their past five games to drop to 26-31.
On Sunday during the loss to Cleveland, the Madison Square Garden faithful actually chanted for the recently departed Keith Van Horn, who never was a fan favourite when he was wearing a New York uniform.
With Van Horn traded and Allan Houston hurt, the Knicks don't have many reliable outside shooters. Knowing that, the Jazz employed a zone defence on Friday and totally befuddled the Knicks, whose coach, Lenny Wilkens, never quite figured out what to do against a zone when he was coaching the Raptors, either.
"When you're losing, it's easy to say, 'You made too many changes,' " Knicks guard Penny Hardaway said. "But it's too early to judge that."
There will be no shortage of judges if the Knicks fall flat during a four-game Western trip that begins tonight.
Every sport has its unique protocol when it comes to "losing it." Hockey players throw water bottles. Football players fling helmets. Baseball players charge the mound. But the preferred method for basketball players is kicking the ball high into the stands. Tracy McGrady of the Orlando Magic was ejected from a recent game after he booted the ball twice, and he subsequently was fined $10,000 US by the NBA for his impression of Adam Viniateri. "That's a lot of money," McGrady said. "I'll have to get me another autograph-signing session to pay for it." ... Milan and Muncie Central high schools in Indiana played each other on Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the "Hoosiers" miracle, in which tiny Milan shocked Muncie Central in the 1954 state championship game. Milan's title run inspired the 1986 movie "Hoosiers." ... Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers said he tried to e-mail teammate Fred Jones after the latter won the NBA slam-dunk competition. "But he didn't e-mail me back," Artest said. "He's too big for me now."