BOSTON With three of their last four games at the TD Garden, the Boston Celtics will give their fans plenty to cheer about as the regular season winds down.
But with playoff races wrapping up, the Celtics are no different than most veteran, playoff-bound teams who start to sit their best players to give them added rest.
It's great for the players. Fans who come to see their favorite stars? Not so much.
"Obviously you would love to take care of the fans," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "But taking care of the fans is winning in the playoffs. That's the way I look at it; at least, that's how it is with our fans."
Prior to Boston's win at Charlotte on Sunday, Rivers decided to give Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett the night off, so they both stayed behind in New York -- the C's played at New Jersey on Saturday -- awaiting the C's to return from Charlotte for Tuesday's road game against the New York Knicks.
It was clear after the introductions of the starting lineup against the Bobcats on Sunday that the pro-Celtics crowd was noticeably disappointed that Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen (he was still out with an ankle injury) were not playing. And Rivers totally understands.
"For our fans," Rivers said, "at the end of the day . . . I think it sucks honestly to buy a ticket and the Big Three in Charlotte don't show, especially when 75 percent of the crowd was for Boston. Having said that, they want us to win, we did that; And secondly, they want to see us do well in the playoffs."
For that to happen, keeping guys healthy is essential.
As you canvass the NBA landscape, it's littered with teams that are resting players.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. The Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade. The San Antonio Spurs and their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
All have missed games this month with the goal of being as healthy as possible when the playoffs begin in less than two weeks.
Throughout the season, Boston has had its share of health-related issues.
So it should come as no surprise that in these final days of the regular season, the Celtics are still grappling with lineup shuffling to accommodate the number of missing bodies.
Ray Allen's sore right ankle has kept him out for 11 games this season, including the last five.
And with the playoffs set to start soon, there are a number of Boston players with questionable health issues right now. Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) both sat out Tuesday's loss at New York. Both are questionable for tonight's game against Orlando.
In addition, Rajon Rondo (back) and Paul Pierce (toe, thigh) suffered injuries against the Knicks on Tuesday which has cast some doubt on whether they'll play against the Magic who are playing without their best player, Dwight Howard (back).
That's why Rivers continues to stress that as much as the C's want to go into the playoffs playing well, keeping players healthy is more important.
Boston now needs one win to clinch the Atlantic Division and with it, no worse than a fourth seed for the playoffs.
Players acknowledge it's important, but not if it comes at the cost of having tired legs going into the postseason.
"At this point, it's a fine line (between) getting some rest and clinching the Atlantic Division," Pierce said. "The key for us at the end of the day, we want to be healthy going into the playoffs.We feel like we can win anywhere on the road. They key for us is being healthy."