- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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HARTFORD, Conn. -- The Boston Celtics launched into a game-heavy stretch that features six exhibition tilts in nine nights starting with Saturday's overtime loss to the New York Knicks at the XL Center.
After spending a week in Europe, the Celtics caught a few days of practice last week but will now plow through their remaining preseason slate. And that's just fine by coach Doc Rivers.
"I love it. Listen, get them all out of the way, then you have practice time," Rivers said before Saturday's game. "I think we have [eight practice] days before the first game [in Miami on Oct. 30], and I like that better than having that last preseason game and having four or five days before your first game. I like the way we're doing it. I think we should play eight in a row."
The exhibition season can be a grind, particularly the tail end when teams get eager to start playing games that actually matter. But there's plenty of work ahead for Boston before that happens.
Rivers, who has sent out three different starting lineups in three games, hopes to stabilize his rotations, clean up areas of concern (including pick-and-roll defense, which was exploited Saturday against the Knicks) and determine who will fill out the back end of the roster.
But priority No. 1 is making sure the core of the team is ready for when the ball goes up on South Beach at the end of the month.
"I'm going to get the core guys ready," Rivers said. "At the end of the day, that's the most important thing. Everybody else, we're going to try to look at them in practices, we're going to watch them in some games. But at the end of the day, we're trying to get ready for the season."
Rivers has operated with Jason Terry in the starting lineup the past two games and has to like the offense he provides in that spot (especially being able to create off the dribble, taking some stress off Rajon Rondo). What's more, on Saturday, Rivers subbed Terry out early enough to bring him back when Rondo checked out for the first time, allowing Terry to operate as a ball handler with the second unit.
Rivers is mixing and matching his personnel and suggested the team will consider a transitional starting lineup (rotating the likes of Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass and Darko Milicic into the starting five alongside Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rondo). Rivers is confident that these games will help him determine the groupings that will allow both Boston's first and second units to thrive.
The Celtics brought all 18 camp bodies on the road, and the game-heavy schedule should allow Rivers to get a longer glimpse at those jockeying for a final roster spot.
Rookie second-round draft pick Kris Joseph and first-year guards Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith appear to be competing for two available spots, while camp invitees Rob Kurz and Micah Downs are trying to make an impression as well.
The younger players all are hoping to make an impression, one that will prevent Boston from flirting with the idea of adding another veteran body (such as a ball handler to add depth behind Rondo). Cap constraints work in the favor of the younger players, but Joseph has a nonguaranteed deal and Smith's guarantee is minimal ($25,000), making it easy for the Celtics to cut ties in order to add a more seasoned body if they desire.
Regardless of their contributions, the extra bodies will help limit wear and tear during this busy stretch. But Rivers said the team will make cuts soon after this string of games ends in order to generate more practice reps for the veterans in the final week of camp.
"I think, in practice, guys are not getting enough reps right now," said Rivers, who has to balance three units, even with the likes of Avery Bradley (shoulders) and Chris Wilcox (back) sidelined. "I knew we had a ton of games coming up, so I wanted to bring more guys for this because we're not going to play all our guys every night. But I would say after this string of games we're about to go through, we'll absolutely make moves."
The Celtics visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night, then return to Boston to host the Nets on Tuesday. The team treks to Brooklyn on Thursday before a back-to-back against the Knicks (Saturday in Albany) and 76ers (Sunday at TD Garden) to wrap up the exhibition season.
Doc Rivers is eager to get the Celtics' exhibition games out of the way.