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 Maybe it was some encouraging words from Doc Rivers. Perhaps it was some harsh ones from Gary Payton.
Whatever the case, Rajon Rondo is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Boston's point guard had his first triple-double in the Celtics' 114-96 victory over Indiana on Wednesday, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high 17 assists. That came two nights after a 16-point, 12-assist performance in a rout of Orlando.
The 6-foot-1 Rondo is one of the NBA's quickest players, and he has good rebounding instincts for someone his size. But his coach thinks the recent strong play isn't about those physical gifts.
``We had a pretty good talk about two weeks ago. ... His next step has nothing to do with basketball. It's mental focus,'' Rivers said. ``Every night bringing his best game and his best focus. And when he does that, he's a good player. He's young and that's a tough thing. It's tougher than it sounds.''
at's how Payton seems to feel, comparing Rondo to players who ride superstars to championship rings while doing little more than waving towels from the bench.
``I respect the man's game, I'm just saying, man, he got put into a situation,'' Payton said last month while serving as a studio analyst on NBA TV.
Rondo endured a horrific 5-for-24 shooting stretch during a three-game span that started just before Payton's remarks. The Celtics lost to Denver on Nov. 14 in the third game, then Rondo scored at least 15 points in seven of his next 10 outings.
``He's been playing well. Ever since Gary Payton been hating on him, he's been playing great,'' teammate Kendrick Perkins said. ``But that's Rondo. We know what he could do. Now he's just really starting to show it.''
Most importantly for the Celtics, Rondo's strong play had them rolling. His triple-double came during their 10th straight victory, which matched the longest winning streak from their 2007-08 championship season and improved them to 18-2.
``We're hard to beat when it's like that, when it starts with our point guard,'' Garnett said.
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TELLING IT LIKE IT IS: Three coaches have already been fired this season because their teams got off to disappointing starts, but Don Nelson doesn't fear the same fate.
According to Nellie, his team expected to be bad - and rewarded him for it.
two-year contract extension on the eve of the season and apparently his bosses aren't expecting him to respond by winning Coach of the Year honors.
``I think part of the reason I got an extension this year was that I think our ownership knows that it's not going to be the best year this year,'' Nelson said, ``and they wanted me to feel free to do what's best for the franchise and not worry too much about winning a couple of extra games.''
Golden State missed the playoffs last season despite winning 48 games, and Nelson has spent the last week ruling out a postseason spot this time. After Baron Davis went to the Clippers as a free agent and Monta Ellis badly injured his ankle in an offseason accident, Nelson believes the Warriors just don't have enough talent or experience to survive the tough Western Conference.
He seems right. The Warriors began 5-13 and had lost seven straight heading into their game Friday at Houston. In a season that's already seen the firings of P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), Eddie Jordan (Washington) and Sam Mitchell (Toronto), that kind of start would have most coaches worried about their job security.
Not Nelson. He's won nearly 1,300 games in the NBA and is approaching career leader Lenny Wilkens (1,332). So while most coaches would never risk publicly ruling out a playoff berth after less than a quarter of the season, Nelson's record allows him the right to be honest.
``You know what, I'm 68 years old. And I've been around a long time,'' he said. ``And I'm going to say it the way it is if I can, and that's the way it is.''
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ALL-STAR EFFORT: Trivia question: Who was the highest-scoring guard for the Western Conference in last season's All-Star game?
Kobe Bryant? Not even close. He played only a few minutes because of injury and was scoreless.
How about Allen Iverson, also a two-time All-Star MVP? Nope, only seven points for the Answer.
If you forgot that Brandon Roy scored 18 points, don't feel bad. Sometimes it's not easy to remember that the Roy was even in New Orleans.
Not to the Portland Trail Blazers, though. They know they have a star, even if the rest of the country doesn't.
``We don't underappreciate him. We know that he's an All-Star,'' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. ``He knows that he has to work hard to get there again. And we have higher expectations this year, and he has placed them on himself to be better, to be a second-time All-Star and to help this team win games and try to get to the playoffs.''
e for the West high.
However, Roy and his teammates became forgotten among all the West elite after Portland faded in the second half and missed the playoffs. Then almost all the attention given to the Blazers early this season was focused on Greg Oden's long-awaited rookie debut. But with the Blazers enjoying another December surge, Roy is back in the spotlight.
He earned another player of the week award last Monday, then made big plays down the stretch in victories at New York and Washington as Portland pushed its winning streak to six games heading into Friday's trip to Boston.
Roy is less than two years removed from winning the 2007 Rookie of the Year award, but the Blazers are so young that McMillan needs him to be a leader. He accepted the role Tuesday in New York, being assertive in the fourth quarter, scoring six points on 3-of-5 shooting, after he missed four of five attempts in the third.
``I think maybe in the past I would have deferred and said I can't be aggressive, I'm not hitting my shot,'' Roy said. ``But he said keep being aggressive, we need you to continue to try to make plays, and that's just me trying to take the next step to becoming a better player and a better leader for this team.''
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'TIS THE SEASON: Already successful on the court, the NBA also reports things going well online.
last year in online sales over the first four days of the traditional shopping season.
NBAstore.com shattered its previous sales records, doubling last year's total on Black Friday and experiencing a 28 percent increase on Cyber Monday.
Chris Paul jerseys and Boston Celtics merchandise were the top sellers for the league, which also had a record Black Friday at its NBA Store in New York.
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BROWN'S BUNCH: The Charlotte Bobcats showed over the last week that maybe they aren't too bad.
Now Larry Brown's team has to accomplish something on the road to prove it can possibly be pretty good.
The Bobcats' game at Milwaukee on Friday night opened a stretch that had them playing five of seven games on the road, including a back-to-back next week at New Orleans and Dallas. The only two home games during that stretch were against Eastern Conference powers Cleveland and Detroit.
So just when Brown starts to see something from his players, he needs to see even more.
``A lot of guys that I think are getting better, so we just need more,'' he said after beating Oklahoma City on Wednesday. ``We've got a really, really, really tough stretch ahead of us, so this was really a huge game for us.''
nts.
Charlotte, averaging a league-low 90.1 points, reached 100 in all three wins. All of them came against sub-.500 teams, but the Bobcats earned some much-needed confidence as they hit the road after playing 13 of their first 18 games at home.
``Now we're fine and now we're starting to click,'' guard Raymond Felton said. ``We're starting to look better as a team. We're starting to win more games, so hopefully now that everybody's got a grasp of that we're going to continue to just grow as a team and just keep winning.''

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