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Down the stretch: How the Hawks and Celtics schedules play out 04.15.12 at 10:07 am ET
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Will the Celtics see more Zaza? (AP)

It’s looking more and more likely that the Celtics will play Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs.

With the C’s closing in on the Atlantic Division title, they are guaranteed to be no lower than the fourth seed. The Hawks, meanwhile, have a one-game lead on Orlando for fifth and the Magic will be without center Dwight Howard for the next 10-14 days with a herniated disk in his back.

Entering play on Sunday, the Celtics (35-25) are a game back of Atlanta (35-24) in the loss column, thanks to their brutal loss to Toronto on Friday night. If the Hawks finish with a better record, they would get homecourt advantage in the first round. If the two teams are tied, the Celtics would own the tiebeaker by virtue of their winning the Atlantic Division.

With that in mind, here’s how their respective schedules play out:

CELTICS (35-25)

Sunday: At Charlotte
Tuesday: At New York
Wednesday: Orlando
Friday: At Atlanta
Tue. April 24: Miami
Thur. April 26: Milwaukee

HAWKS (35-24)

Sunday: Toronto
Monday: At Toronto
Wednesday: Detroit
Friday: Boston
Sunday: New York
Tue. April 24: Clippers
Thur. April 26 Dallas

Two things stand out. One, the Hawks play six of their seven games at home where they are 19-8. Second, this Friday’s game in Atlanta is shaping up to be extremely important. The Celtics have won both meetings this season but only by a total of five points.

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Fast Break: Celtics send Blazers to R.I.P City 03.09.12 at 9:48 pm ET
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After getting blown out by Philadelphia on Wednesday, the Celtics needed some momentum heading into their eight-game road trip. Fortunately, the Trail Blazers were in town and they brought their considerable baggage to the floor with them.

It was uncomfortable watching a team so completely unravel, but the Celtics weren’t complaining after taking a 35-point halftime lead in a 104-86. Portland had 16 turnovers in the first half, forced only two and watched time and again as various Celtics flew down the lane for layups and dunks.

At one point it was 10-10. At another it was 81-38. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen each scored 22 points and the starters shot 28-for-49.

The Celtics will start an eight-game road trip in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Sunday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Not settling: It wasn’t clear immediately that the Blazers were in full ship be sinking mode, but the Celtics didn’t waste any time finding out. Rajon Rondo and Pierce attacked the rim right from the start and once they realized Portland wasn’t going to put up a fight, it was open season on the basket.

Sasha Pavlovic has the cure for the second quarter blues: The veteran swingman hit a 3 on the team’s first possession and then got fouled on a breakaway layup. Pavlovic scored eight points in the quarter and the Celtics scored 18 of the first 20 points. It was 45-19 after six minutes and 38-13 for the quarter.

Save those legs: Kevin Garnett made all five of his shots and played just 20 minutes. Allen, Pierce and Rondo clocked in with just 26 apiece. They needed that.

Bench production: Avery Bradley scored 10 points and had five assists. Greg Stiemsma missed all nine shots he took, but he had seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Pavlovic added 10 points and it was the bench’s best performance in weeks, even without Mickael Pietrus (knee) and Chris Wilcox (personal reasons).

WHAT WENT WRONG

Injuries, again: Pietrus has struggled with his shot lately, but coach Doc Rivers revealed before the game that his problems are related to a knee injury. Pietrus tried to play through it on Wednesday against Philly and Rivers acknowledged before Friday’s game that he would have liked to have had that back. The hope is that Pietrus will be available for Sunday’s game against the Lakers, but that’s far from given.

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Report: Knicks have interest in Lawrence Frank 07.18.11 at 5:25 pm ET
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Celtics assistant coach Lawrence Frank has interviewed with Houston, Golden State, Toronto and now Detroit for their head coaching jobs and he is said to be one of two finalists for the Pistons job along with former Hawks coach Mike Woodson.

It’s no secret that Frank wants to be a head coach again. He had a fairly successful run with the Nets that stretched over seven seasons before coming to a screeching halt when the Nets began the year 0-16 in 2009-10. That said as much about New Jersey’s talent as Frank’s abilities as a coach.

In his one season with the Celtics, Frank was tasked with operating the team’s defense. They ranked first in fewest points allowed, second in field goal percentage defense and were in a virtual tie with the Bulls in terms of points per 100 possessions. He also had a solid rapport with the veteran players — no easy task.

It has been assumed that Frank would return if he couldn’t get a head-coaching job but the Celtics may have competition for his services.

The Knicks have been casting about for a defensive-minded assistant and Newsday’s Alan Hahn reports that Frank would be a good fit as he and head coach Mike D’Antoni have a good relationship and — unlike many coaches — he wouldn’t be bothered by working for a coach in the last year of his contract. Additionally, Hahn notes that Frank’s wife and daughters stayed in New Jersey while he was working in Boston.

Like head coach Doc Rivers, all of Boston’s assistants were working on one-year contracts last season. Team president Danny Ainge noted that while he expected Frank to get offers, the team would have interest in bringing him back.

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Paul Pierce strains left Achilles 05.03.11 at 11:51 pm ET
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MIAMI — Paul Pierce strained his left Achilles tendon in the first quarter of Game 2 and had to go back to the locker room for a stretch. He returned soon after and scored 13 points in the Celtics’ 102-91 loss. “It’s day to day right now,” Pierce said. “We’ll see how it feels the next couple of days.”

Pierce said he wasn’t sure how the injury happened, but it was a problem for him. “When you strain your Achilles, every step is like a slight little pain,” he said. “It actually loosened up as I got back in there and it didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”

Pierce wasn’t the only Celtic playing in pain. Rajon Rondo’s back tightened up and Ray Allen was dealing with a bruised chest. “[Trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] and Dr. [Brian] McKeon did a hell of a job today,” Doc Rivers said. “We had a circus going on at one point. Ray needed to be taken to the locker room. Paul was coming out of the locker room. Rondo was asking to come out almost simultaneously. It was sketchy.”

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Doc Rivers: ‘I’ve got to do a better job of getting Kevin involved’ 05.02.11 at 9:31 pm ET
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Doc Rivers wasn’t exactly jubilant after watching the film of Sunday’s Game 1 loss to the Heat.

He talked before Monday’s practice about the importance of staying patient on offense — “very eager offensively and that hurt us … we were pretty much a one-option team and very rarely worked the sets” — and the importance of keeping composure, something Paul Pierce failed to do in the fourth quarter.

Rivers stressed the need to do a better job on James Jones — “The fact that he took seven 3-pointers without taking a dribble, when you think about it, that’s poor defense” — and Dwyane Wade.

In short, it wasn’t quite a sneak peak of “The Hangover: Part II” in the old film room.

And when it came to analyzing his own effort after viewing the 99-90 loss again, Rivers pointed to one decision as perhaps his biggest error.

“I’ve got to do a better job of getting Kevin [Garnett] involved,” Rivers said. “Kevin is one of our featured scorers and I didn’t think we did a good job with him at all.”

Indeed Garnett was an absolute non-factor on offense in Game 1, scoring just six points on 3-of-9 shooting. The Celtics made a concerted effort to get Garnett going early, posting him up on Chris Bosh on their first two possessions, but then went away from a matchup that the team looked at as a advantage heading into the series.

“We got Bosh on an early foul, and then we went seven straight plays before we decided to look back to that spot,” said Rivers. “That’s not like us to do that. That was a mistake.”

Garnett had plenty of success in four games vs. the Heat this season, averaging 16.5 points on 54 percent shooting. And coming off of a Game 4 win over the Knicks that saw Garnett score 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, it seemed a fairly obvious bet that the power forward would be heavily involved in the offense.

And as much as Rivers wanted to take the blame for Garnett’s lack of productivity, there is no question that the 14-time All-Star can be too unselfish at times. The Celtics want Garnett on the attack against Bosh, and that wasn’t the nearly the case in Game 1.

“I think we’ve just got to try to tell him to be aggressive when he gets the ball in the post,” said Rajon Rondo. “He is an unselfish guy, but we want him to be aggressive and take advantage of the matchup.”

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Paul Pierce: ‘Definitely worried’ about possible suspension at 2:07 pm ET
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UPDATE: Pierce will not be suspended or face further disciplinary action, according to league official.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Paul Pierce – who declined to speak to reporters following Sunday’s Game 1 loss to the Heat — met with the media before the Celtics’ practice Tuesday on the campus of the University of Miami. Pierce was ejected on Sunday after picking up his second technical foul, which was assessed after he exchanged words with Dwyane Wade following an attempt by Wade to run through a screen set by Pierce.

But it was the first technical called on Pierce that has raised the idea that action from the NBA might be administered. Pierce appeared to attempt a head-butt on James Jones after the Miami swingman aggressively fouled Pierce. Pierce told the media that he expected to hear from the NBA sometime on Monday, but didn’t feel his actions warranted further action. He did, however, admit that there is always worry whenever the league is investigating the possibility of discipline.

“It’s always a concern when things happen,” Pierce said. “Right now it’s out of my control, they are going to view it the how they view it and come to a decision. I’m definitely worried because if it’s a situation where it hurts my team, then it was very selfish. It was selfish of me last night but it’ll hurt even more if the league cam with the decision to suspend me, if that’s what they thought they saw.”

Pierce — who said he was “surprised at getting kicked out” — agreed with Doc Rivers, who in his postgame press conference Sunday suggested that both Jones and Wade should have received flagrant fouls.

“I probably overreacted,” Pierce said. “Thought I was fouled excessively on both play. I thought it should have been a flagrant on both plays. But it’s up to me to keep my composure. The referees called what they saw. I need to do a better job keeping my composure. That’s it.”

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Heat pregame notes: Mike Miller active, Udonis Haslem out 05.01.11 at 3:10 pm ET
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MIAMI — Not a single Heat player spoke to the media before the game. More accurately, not a single Heat player was in the locker room during the media availability portion of the proceedings.

Erik Spoelstra, however, did meet with the media, and cleaned up some questions regarding player availability for Game 1. Udonis Haslem — out since November (foot surgery) — is inactive.

“We’ve been pushing his workouts a little bit more, but he’s not there yet,” said Spoelstra.

Mike Miller — who missed the last three games of the first-round series win over the 76ers with a left thumb injury — is active today.

“I had every eyeball in the gym watching him all week long, and I told him that,” said Spoelstra of Miller, who played just 41 games in the regular season. ”He’s able to play. How much will depend on the game, but he’s been a true professional about it.”

Dwyane Wade was dramatically outplayed by Ray Allen this season in the four Miami-Boston contests, as Wade averaged just 12.8 points on 28.1 percent shooting vs. Allen’s 20.3 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting.

“We need Dwyane to be effective, we need him to score,” said Spoelstra. ”More so than any other player I’ve ever been around, he can figure defenses out. … So now he’s had more time to see how Boston has played him. The first two games, not an excuse, you have to give Boston credit for defense, but he was just coming back. He’ll be able to figure it out and strike the balance of being aggressive at some points for us, but also showing the poise that he showed last game.”

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