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More minutes for Celtics' stars?

The Boston Celtics had a day off Monday. Well, most of them did. But rookies JJ Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Greg Stiemsma all were busy, as were Marquis Daniels and Avery Bradley. They were all in the Roxbury section of Boston.

Johnson and Stiemsma were at the Hale Elementary School participating in the NBA's Read to Achieve initiative. The other three were at the K-8 Tobin School as part of the league's Stay in School program.

With the exception of Bradley, this may be as much action as any of them get in the days and weeks ahead. Coach Doc Rivers decided during the All-Star break that he was going to shorten his bench for the rest of the season.

Where once you might see 10 or 11 Celtics in a game, you are now more likely to see nine with maybe a cameo from a 10th. This has been the case since the team assembled in Cleveland following the All-Star Game. It has not lost since then.

"We're basically at nine,'' Rivers said following Sunday's 115-111 victory over the New York Knicks. "That's what we're going to do."

And what if Jermaine O'Neal (wrist injury) returns? Something, by the way, that the Celtics are beginning to think probably won't happen anytime soon.

"The decision we made [to shorten the roster] was made whether he comes back or not,'' Rivers said Monday. "Right now, I don't see it [O'Neal returning soon]. And right now, we cannot sustain another injury to our frontcourt. It would be deadly. We don't go any deeper. We don't even have any deeper right now. I like the size of Jermaine but I like the speed we have with the group that's there now. "

The decision to shorten the roster also does not mean that the Big Three will be logging more minutes. Rivers said he still plans to limit Kevin Garnett's minutes, although he let KG play 41 on Sunday, his longest stint in more than three years. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will also have the occasional, big-minute game, but if Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus and Bradley are healthy, Rivers sees them as minutes-eating fill-ins for Pierce and Allen.

Bradley (five minutes) and Dooling (nine) didn't play all that much Sunday, mainly because the guy they usually spell, Rajon Rondo, was having one of his otherworldly games. Daniels has basically disappeared. He has not played in the past four games. Moore has found himself on the inactive list. Sasha Pavlovic has sat for three of the past four games while Stiemsma and Johnson have made two appearances in the four games. None of those four played in the overtime game on Sunday.

Rivers said he came to the roster-tightening decision after the last game before the All-Star break, a defeat at Oklahoma City.

"I told our coaches after the Oklahoma City game, 'When we come back, there's nine guys, and that'll be it.' Every once in a while when we can go 10 we will, but that 10th guy is going to be a short-minute guy, whoever it is. And I like what we're doing."

It remains to be seen if Rivers can stick to this plan with such a brutal schedule looming. Starting Tuesday night, the Celtics will play five games in seven days, the latter two coming Sunday and Monday in Los Angeles to kick off an eight-game road trip.

"We need health. It's as simple as that,'' he said.

The current roster situation places Garnett at the center position, a spot he professes to distaste. Rivers chalked up KG's alleged dislike for the spot to the pride of a player who has been a power forward all his career.

"The only difference is on defense,'' Rivers said. "On offense, both he and Brandon [Bass] are like [power forwards]."

Garnett's 41-minute stint against the Knicks was his first 40-plus minute game since Jan. 12, 2009. It was only the ninth time he has played 40 or more minutes since joining the Celtics in 2007. Allen and Pierce also went 40 or more minutes Sunday, each for the fourth time this season. Allen has played at least 40 minutes 36 times in the past three seasons while Pierce has done it 23 times in the same time span.

Garnett is currently on a throwback run of sorts, putting up numbers that harken back to his days in Minnesota. In the past five games, he is averaging 20.8 points, 10.2 rebounds in just 34 minutes a game. He's shooting 55.3 percent from the field in those five games, despite an 8-of-22 submission on Sunday.

Three of the past five games have resulted in 20-10 games for Garnett, who turns 36 in May. And all of this has come since he missed a couple games due to personal reasons and, for the first time since 2008, not participating in the All-Star Game or the hoopla of All-Star weekend.

"The rest did him some good,'' Rivers said of Garnett. "He had some family issues. They were cleared up. More than anything, it's him moving to the [center position] and just being healthy. It's really no more complicated than that."

While the respite undoubtedly helped, Garnett's turnaround started on Feb. 5 against the Grizzlies. Counting that game, he has averaged 19.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in his past 11 games. (He missed three games in this stretch.)

Also in the past month, he passed Charles Barkley to move into 18th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list and also passed Buck Williams to move into 13th place on the all-time rebounding list. He needs 13 more rebounds to pass Shaquille O'Neal and take over the No. 12 spot.

For Garnett and his teammates, there's much work that lies ahead, starting Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets, coached by Kevin McHale, the man responsible for bringing Garnett to the NBA back in 1995.

Longtime Celtics writer Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.