Updated: Feb. 27, 2006, 10:22 AM ET

Straight A's lately for C's

"I see why Doc loves his team."

That's what I said at the end of the ESPN telecast of one of the most exciting games of the year, the Boston Celtics' 112-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston coach Doc Rivers was exultant after the game, and for good reason.

And here's the main one:

For the Celtics, the future looks good.

Why do things look so bright for the Celtic green?

First and foremost, Paul Pierce is everything you want in a superstar. At 28, he's become a mature ballplayer. Unlike earlier in his career, he doesn't have to dominate the ball to succeed. His decision-making is quicker, and he's a more efficient player.

Along with that, Pierce has become an amazing leader. He's doing a great job of showing the way for his team. Your superstar has to be willing to work hard, to lead with his actions and to sacrifice at times, and Pierce does all that. His 39 points were only part of what he brought to the floor on Sunday.

Then you have the young players.

The maturity of Delonte West is impressive as he learns how to run the offense. His 19 points and 10 assists (for his first double-digit assist game) demonstrated the strides he's made in his second season.

Likewise, rookie Ryan Gomes has found himself lately, carving out a niche as an all-around hustle player and rebounder. His 39 boards, including 17 offensive rebounds, in the last three games are a testament to his hard work and knowledge of how to play the game, and his big tip-in was a decisive play in the last minute on Sunday. Since Gomes joined the starting lineup about two weeks ago, the Celtics are 5-2.

Furthermore, they're 3-1 on this Western road trip, and most impressive of all, they're doing this without their two young studs, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins.

And that tells me that they're becoming a team that you're going to have to deal with pretty soon in the Eastern Conference, and especially in the Atlantic Division.

The New Jersey Nets aren't getting any younger, or better. Likewise the Philadelphia 76ers, who are getting disappointing production from their young players for the most part.

I don't see the Celtics as ready to challenge the elite teams in the conference, but I do think they'll challenge for the playoffs in the next year or two, and they can't be counted out this year yet.

That's not to say they don't have weaknesses. Right now they don't really have a two guard to speak of, because Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak are small forwards. They've still got a lot to learn about how to shut down the other team, and they've got to get more mature in a number of ways.

But I see that happening, because Doc and the Celtics have done a great job of creating the right environment for winning. I'm thoroughly impressed with Doc's approach, and with that of the rest of the organization as well as the players.

They work hard, and they don't seem to have any locker room issues. On Sunday they played with poise, showing a good understanding of how to win.

None of those things are a given for a team, especially a young team.

Everyone I've talked to with the Celtics is very optimistic. On Sunday, and on this entire road trip, they've showed me why.

Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: February 16 | 17 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25-26

Ticket To The Locker Room
AP Photo/Andy King
When Kevin Garnett threw a ball out of bounds in frustration and hit a fan in the face, the result was an automatic ejection. KG was on his way to a triple double, but Ricky Davis poured in 35 to lead Minnesota to a 105-99 win over the fast-fading Grizzlies.

Is L.O. the answer in L.A.?

Kyle (Paw Paw): With no moves yet to bring in help for Kobe Bryant, what do you see the Lakers doing to bring in a legitimate No. 2 to Kobe, or is Lamar Odom the answer?

Chris Sheridan: Not sure if they'll make a move for Latrell Sprewell. They still have a little less than half of their midlevel exception available, so they could offer him a small chunk of change more than a couple of the other contenders. But that would only be a short-term move.

For the long term, the Lakers have to decide if they want to be a free agent player in 2008 (their current plan) or 2007 (they'd have to move Odom to do so).

See the complete Chris Sheridan chat transcript

NBA Intelligence Report
Wells: Coach Didn't Want To Deal With Me
Perhaps it will take Dr. Phil to flush out the bad memories of Memphis for good. In the meantime, Bonzi Wells used a comprehensive feature written about him in Sunday's Sacramento Bee to further explain the confusion surrounding his controversial Memphis exit. Wells said Mike Fratello didn't communicate with him during the season. "I just felt like he was scared of me," Wells said of Fratello, "for what, I don't know. He may be just a scary kind of dude and couldn't handle a cat like me, who allegedly had this bad kind of rap. And he just didn't want to deal with me. I think he fed into that." -- Memphis Commercial-Appeal

Team's Techie Is Wally
It hasn't gotten much attention, but Paul Pierce has stepped aside on technical free throws now that Wally Szczerbiak is playing for the Celtics. While most big scorers love the extra points, Pierce simply let the better marksman shoot. There was no directive from the coach. "It's not something people might think of as a big deal, but it is to me," coach Doc Rivers said. "It's a great thing. I love it. I love it because of what it says about them. There's no jealousies. They like each other. They trust each other already, which is really nice to see." -- Boston Herald

McGrady Rips Weisbrod For Controversial Moves
Tracy McGrady was back in Orlando Sunday, and in what has become almost habit, he verbally ripped into John Weisbrod, saying if it wasn't for the former Magic general manager, "I still would be wearing blue." ... "Absolutely, without a doubt," McGrady said of his chances of still being with the Magic. It's just that simple. But obviously it took them too long to figure out that it wasn't a perfect fit." -- Florida Today

Read the entire Intelligence Report on Insider Insider

Motion: Pacers Rip Nets, Carter Hurt
If the playoffs started today, the Pacers and the Nets would meet ... which makes Indiana's 101-91 win in Jersey seem all the more significant.

Vinsane Pain

Paul Above All

NBAE/Getty Images/Andrew D. Bernstein
In a game reminiscent of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the '80s, Paul Pierce and his youthful Boston teammates squeezed out a 112-111 win in The Truth's hometown.

Extreme Behavior

Sunday's Best
Ryan Gomes, Celtics forward: The rook scored a career-high 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting and grabbed 12 boards in 42 minutes in the Celtics' 112-111 win over the Lakers in L.A. Gomes was the 50th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.


Sunday's Worst
Dwight Howard, Magic center: The league's best soph scored just one basket, had one assist and grabbed one offensive rebound in the Magic's 89-84 loss to the Rockets. Oh yeah, Yao Ming had 19 and 11 for the Rockets on Howard's watch.


Quote of the Day
"I'm not going to start the game by cracking a cat in the skull if I don't get elbowed first."
-- Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace on why he intentionally elbowed Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the head 1:47 into Sunday's game. The wound on Z's head required five stitches to close.

See how all 121 who played stacked up

Elias Says
Paul Pierce scored 39 points for the Celtics on Sunday night, raising his scoring average for February to a league-leading 33.5 points per game in Boston's final game this month.

Pierce led the NBA in scoring average back in March 2001 (30.3). The only other Celtics player to do so in any month over the last 50 years (minimum: 10 games) was John Havlicek (28.1 in October 1970).

To catch Pierce, Kobe Bryant would need 53 points in his final game of the month (Tuesday vs. the Magic); Gilbert Arenas would need 57 points (Monday vs. the Grizzlies); and Allen Iverson would need 59 points (Monday vs. the Mavericks).

• Elias Sports Bureau | More Elias

The 40-40 Club
While Kobe Bryant scored 40 points for Los Angeles on Sunday, Paul Pierce, as mentioned above, finished with "only" 39 in Boston's win.

That means, according to ESPN Research and the Elias Sports Bureau, there is still just one game in the long history of the Lakers-Celtics battles in which a player for each team scored 40 or more points: 40 seasons ago, when L.A.'s Jerry West outdueled Boston's John Havlicek.

Los Angeles 125, Boston 115
November 17, 1965
  West Havlicek
Points 46 41
FG-FGA 15-24 15-32
FT-FTA 16-20 11-12
Assists 8 6
Rebounds 7 4

Dream Matrix

Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns scored 31 points and had a career-high 24 rebounds Saturday vs. the Charlotte Bobcats after having a career-high 44 points to go with 15 rebounds in his previous game on Wednesday.

That's a total of 75 points and 39 rebounds in two games.

The last player to post at least 75 points and 39 rebounds in a two-game span was Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets, with 78 points and 39 rebs on February 27 and March 1, 1990.

-- Michael Jackson, ESPN Research



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