WALTHAM, Mass. — Players ran under the basket and threw balls to distract Ray Allen and Eddie House in their free-throw shooting contest. Glen Davis rolled on the floor in amazement after an acrobatic dunk by J.R. Giddens.
Practice time was fun time for the Boston Celtics, a tired team in need of a break.
“Sometimes in the year you’ve got to remember why you play basketball,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Guys were laughing and joking. I thought that was good for them.”
After four games in five days and six in nine — all without injured Kevin Garnett — the Celtics held a light workout Saturday in the midst of a three-day stretch without a game. They should be a lot fresher Monday night at home against the Dallas Mavericks than they were Thursday night in a 96-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
That was the Celtics’ sixth loss at home this season, already matching their number of losses for each of the last two seasons.
They’re 4-6 in their last 10 games but were in a lighthearted mood on Saturday during a practice attended by a team sponsor’s employees and their friends and family members.
Before Giddens and Bill Walker engaged in a dunking contest, Garnett borrowed a coin from a spectator and flipped it, presumably to determine which player would go first. Then he picked it up, returned it and said, “Thank you, sir. Great coin.” The fan smiled.
“After losses, sometimes guys get mad at each other a little bit,” center Kendrick Perkins said. “So sometimes you need just a little laughter in the gym. I think that helped us.”
Getting Garnett and Rasheed Wallace back would help more, relieving the pressure on Perkins on defense under the basket.
Garnett missed the last eight games with a hyper-extended right knee and is expected to sit out at least two more before possibly returning Friday night against Portland. Wallace, the top backup forward, expects to return Monday night after missing three games with a sore left foot.
The Celtics also have played the last 18 games without guard Marquis Daniels, who had surgery for a torn ligament in his left thumb and is expected back in mid-February.
Still, their 27-11 record is the third best in the NBA, despite their 11-6 mark at home.
“It’s a concern,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if we’ve lost the edge or not, but we have to be better at home, and you can’t blame those (losses) on injuries because (for) most of them we were healthy.
“These next two weeks are going to be tough because we’ll be trying to get guys back. But I look at the All-Star break and if our team is (completely healthy) then we have to try to run the stretch for home games. We have to try to win every one.”
Rivers figured his players needed two days to rest their legs, so they didn’t practice Friday and ran only a few drills Saturday.
With all the injuries, Paul Pierce has played more minutes than he or Rivers would like. The Celtics’ leading scorer missed five games after undergoing two minor procedures for an infection in his right knee and returned on Jan. 6.
“Hopefully, with some of the guys coming back, it will help us out tremendously as far as taking our minutes down,” Pierce said.
Even with all the injuries, the Celtics trailed Cleveland by 1½ games in the Eastern Conference before the Cavaliers played the Clippers in Los Angeles on Saturday night. So with more than half a season left, homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs remains a possibility.
“I love our team,” Rivers said. “I like who I think we can become once we get (healthy). I like the spirit. I like where this team is at mentally. Physically, we have to work on that part right now.”