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November 10, 2009
On the Beat
Rivers Manages Playing Time

by John Perrotto

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One of the most difficult things for the coach of a veteran team is how to dole out minutes.

He obviously wants his best players on the floor as much as possible. At the same time, he doesn’t want to wear older legs out early in the season. Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers is facing that situation. So far, he has handled it quite well as his team is off to a 7-1 start and the lead in the Atlantic Division.

One way Rivers preserves his players is by cutting back on practice time and eliminating game-day shootarounds. That way, they are ready to expend as much energy as possible during games.

“One thing the players like is how much time we give them to recover,” Rivers said. “You have to know when to back off to save their legs. But you still have to let guys play. I don't think you're going to squeeze an extra year out of anybody. I think you're going to get out of them the best they have to give you this year. Then you'll do it again next year. But in doing that you want to make sure you give them every chance to recuperate. I feel I'm that way with a young team, too. I just think you have to do that.”

Ray Allen leads the Celtics with an average of 35.0 minutes a game while Paul Pierce (34.6) Rajon Rondo (32.6) and Kevin Garnett (30.4) are also over 30 minutes a game. Certainly, none have played an excessive amount but Rivers said he would be willing to use his starters more if need be.

Rivers also pointed out that Lakers coach Phil Jackson has never been shy to ride his starters hard.

“The winningest coach in the game today, the guy with the most titles, plays his guys more minutes than everybody,” Rivers said. “He always has. (Michael) Jordan always played 38 or 39 minutes, even later in his career. And Kobe (Bryant) did last year. I do think there's a happy medium with veteran players, if you go too low you'll really affect how they play. They can lose their rhythm. They're used to a certain amount of minutes. You can take one or two of them away, but if you start going 37 minutes to 30, that's going to affect their play."

Ironically, the Celtics have one of the deepest benches in the league. Rasheed Wallace, Eddie House, Shelden Williams and Marquis Daniels are averaging a combined 30.1 points a game this season.

“Our second group is so competitive if not sometimes a bit parallel with this first group,” Garnett said. “They know how to play. They play unselfishly. They share the ball, and they understand momentum. They understand how to keep a lead if not get a lead. We're a team of depth, and it's going to take some of that burden off the starters.”

How the Knicks Missed on Jennings

The New York Knicks found out just how good Bucks rookie point guard Brandon Jennings is last Saturday as he had 17 points, three assists and four rebounds in a victory over them at Milwaukee.

The Knicks had a clear need at point guard on draft night and many analysts thought they would select Jennings, who became the first high school player to circumvent the NBA’s one-and-down rule by skipping college and playing professionally in Italy last winter. Yet, the Knicks selected forward Jordan Hill.

Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh planned to watch Jennings at a Eurobasket camp in May. However, Jennings did not participate. Though Jennings later played well against fellow point guard prospect Tyreke Evans in a pre-draft workout, the Knicks took a pass.

“We just did not have a feel for Brandon Jennings’ game,” Walsh said. “I had him in and he looked good but he looked young and had a lot ahead of him. I still am glad we took Jordan Hill but I think Brandon Jennings is going to be a good player. He’s getting an opportunity to play and it’s a tough comparison because Jordan is not.”

Jennings is averaging 18.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 31.6 minutes while Hill’s line is 4.3/1.0/0.0/6.3. Jennings admitted it felt good to play well against the Knicks.

“I was a little upset when they didn’t pick me,” Jennings said. “Maybe things happen for a reason.”

Defense Missing for Raptors

The Toronto Raptors are 3-4, which isn’t so bad considering they rank 29th in the NBA with a 116.8 defensive rating and 27th in points allowed at 108.2 a game.

The Raptors have nine new players on the roster this season. Coach Jay Triano has had a difficult time getting them all to adjust to his defensive style that is based on reading and reacting.

“We try to go over screens this year but the definitive thing is trying to determine where the gray area is,” Triano said. “Outside of the scoring zone, you want to go under; inside the scoring zone, you want to go over. But teams are smart and they do the same things that we do, we try to put them in a gray area, is it a high screen, is it a side screen, is it an angle? Is it in the scoring area, is it just outside? You try to get teams to extend themselves.”

The Raptors lack team speed, so learning where to be in the defensive system takes on added importance since they can’t rely on defending primarily through raw athletic ability. That is why Triano has at least considered the idea of playing some zone defense, though he isn’t ready to switch from man-to-man just yet.

“I wouldn't say we've practiced it enough and I certainly don't want the players to think that we are abandoning what we're doing,” Triano said. “I think what we're doing is the right way to play and I think we're getting better at it.”

Shinn Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer

Hornets owner George Shinn, who brought the NBA back to New Orleans in 2003 when he moved the franchise from Charlotte, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Test results showed the cancer had not spread and Shinn's prognosis is good.

Shinn, 68, will be away from the team for a few weeks while he undergoes treatment but said in a statement released by the team that he will “maintain a positive attitude as I battle this with intense fervor and drive.”

Hornets coach Byron Scott has no doubt Shinn will beat the disease.

“The biggest thing is we're going to keep praying for him,” Scott said. “We know his feistiness and that he's going to fight it to the fullest. I told him I'll be there for him.”

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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