They've got three All-Stars set to suit up in Dallas this weekend, but question marks surround them all regarding health, readiness, mindset. Most see All-Star weekend as a time to party and celebrate, but for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, it would be good just to survive.
Garnett is just getting back from a hyperextended knee. He's playing, but he's not moving at full speed and coach Doc Rivers is limiting his minutes to around 30 a night.
Pierce is getting back from a mid-foot sprain. He played 30 minutes against Orlando on Sunday, but he's questionable for Wednesday's game in New Orleans after a bad practice on Monday.
Rondo is healthy physically, but it's the first All-Star Game of his career, and you have to wonder what's going on in his head. It's a big moment in his career unfolding right before our eyes.
With all of this uncertainty, it sure would be nice to have Doc himself manning the sidelines by the Eastern Conference bench, calling the shots for his three guys and the rest of the East All-Stars. But with the Celtics fading out of the race for the second-best record in the conference, losing ground to Stan Van Gundy's Magic, that's not looking likely.
"I worry about Van Gundy," said an only-half-kidding Rivers. "Absolutely. I can see him playing Kevin and Paul 40 minutes. If it was in reverse, I would."
Garnett was voted into the All-Star Game as a starter; he's got to play and he's got to give it everything he's got. It would be an insult to the fans not to. As for Pierce, he's certainly got the option to back out of the Sunday exhibition, but he'd be happier taking the floor.
"I think it's definitely a possibility with the progress I'm making," Pierce said. "And if I can get a few minutes in the All-Star Game, that'd be good, just to kind of test it out."
This is a pivotal point in the season for the Celtics' captain. He missed two games last week with the foot sprain, and he looked tentative in a third — not moving as much as he could, settling for a couple of jumpers. His comeback is still a work in progress. But with a crucial West road swing through San Antonio, Los Angeles, Portland and Denver coming up next on the Celtics' calendar, a workout this weekend would be good. And if millions of Americans are watching from their homes? So be it. As long as Pierce is healthy.
"I would actually want him to play in the All-Star Game," Rivers added. "It allows him to play before we get out to the West Coast. … If there's pain involved? No. But if he's playing, and we feel he's going to play on the West Coast trip, I think it's a great idea for him to play. It's not like they play very hard or play a lot of defense, so it's like having a shootaround."
As for Rondo, he's healthy and energetic and he's been one of the best athletes in the NBA this season. Really, the only concern with him is trying to do too much. But he can take some counseling from his coach, a former Eastern Conference point guard himself who played his first and only All-Star Game at 26. Doc had plenty of wisdom to impart.
"Just play," the coach said. "Be yourself. And I told him he can be "Showtime" as much as he wants. I'm all for it. I don't care what he does — he can be fancy, he can gamble on defense, get it all out."
Prior to the game itself on Sunday, the NBA Skills Challenge on Saturday night will be one of the lighter, more entertaining events of the weekend. And Pierce, who has been one of the top 3-point shooters in the league this season, is very much looking forward to getting the competitive juices flowing in this year's 3-point shootout, foot sprain be damned.
"If I don't do anything else, I plan on doing that," Pierce said. "And I think I'll do fine in that. I'm excited to have the opportunity to be in it. … It's a great part of All-Star weekend, and you have so many memories of, you know, Larry Bird winning the contest years ago, Ray Allen winning the contest … I think it's fun.
"And I think that being one of the great shooters in NBA history, I deserve to be there," he added, cracking a wry smile.
He certainly hasn't proven that in the shootout before. His only other appearance, in 2002, was a complete flop — Pierce has in fact referred to it before as "an embarrassment to the franchise" that he made just eight shots and was knocked out in the first round. Peja Stojakovic won the event that year. Eight years later, Pierce has learned his lesson.
"I didn't practice for it, man," Pierce said. "I was probably out all night the night before, too. You know, in my younger days. I probably didn't get no sleep that weekend, it was one of my first All-Star Games. So I plan on getting some rest, I plan on going out and practicing for it, and I plan on winning it."
That's a good plan. And if nothing else, it'd be good to make it through the weekend with life and limb intact, ready for next week. What lies ahead is much more than an exhibition.
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