Lakers Practice at Garden

For the first time in two days — which this season seems more like a week — the Lakers heard Mike Brown’s voice on an actual NBA court.

Brown had been suspended for Monday’s loss at Philadelphia, and Tuesday was a travel day as the team made its way from Philly to Boston, leaving the court-time loving head coach without a chance to blow his whistle. But with Thursday’s contest at the TD Garden on the horizon, Brown has his guys on the parquet floor for much of Wednesday morning and early afternoon.

“He was a little chippy today,” said Kobe Bryant. “He’s such a defensive-oriented coach, there were a lot of things that he saw that we needed to go over, because this was only really our third practice of the season.”

In addition to shoring up the defense, Brown said the team worked on spacing and ball movement, which have improved markedly since early in the season but are still not where the coaching staff ultimately want. The team will focus more closely on Boston at Thursday’s shootaround.

The Celtics come into the matchup playing their best basketball of the season, winning five consecutive games to improve to 14-10 on the season. Since starting 5-9, Boston has gone 10-2, even while missing point guard Rajon Rondo for eight games (6-2).

Perhaps the biggest reason for the improvement, aside from the team’s cohesiveness from the past few seasons with Doc Rivers and their schemes on both ends of the floor, has been the outstanding play of Paul Pierce, who actually surpassed Larry Bird on Tuesday for 2nd* on the team’s all-time leading scorer’s list.
*This a day after Kobe Bryant surpassed Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time list.

In the last 10 games, Pierce is averaging 22.6 points, 7.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds and over a steal a game, this after scoring under 14 points in seven of his first 11 games, and reaching seven assists just once. Meanwhile, Ray Allen – drafted in 1996 like Bryant and Derek Fisher – has defied his age to average 14.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists on an impressive 50 percent shooting, including 52.6 percent from three-point range.

Rondo and Kevin Garnett remain productive, and the Celtics are starting to get some consistent bench production from Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox and Mickael Pietrus in particular. The Lakers, meanwhile, may not be as far away from being an elite contender as their 14-11 record (5th in the West) might suggest.

“We’re close to really turning the corner,” said Bryant, adding that as he and his teammates get more comfortable with the new system, incorporate new players and get used to everything, they will be right on the cusp.

Tip time is 5 p.m. Pacific for a game shown exclusively on TNT; you can listen on 710 ESPN radio, as well.