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CELTICS ON JOURNEY FOR NEXT TITLE

Every night of his adult life, Doc Rivers says, he has prayed before bedtime. And every night, it was the same thing: "To win a world championship."

"And the night we won it, I got on my knees to do my prayer and I said, 'Again,'" the Celtics coach said. "It didn't take long."

Still hungry for another title, Rivers will watch as the Celtics' 17th championship banner is raised to the rafters of the TD Banknorth Garden before tonight's season opener against the Cavaliers. The players will get their championship rings. And then the team will get back to the business of filling up the NBA's most crowded trophy case.

"To be a real special Celtics team, you have to win more than one," owner Wyc Grousbeck said.

Sometimes players get their rings and decide they have accomplished everything they need to and won't worry about repeating.

One look at Kevin Garnett's face persuaded Rivers to focus on other concerns. "I can't imagine even seeing a laid-back Kevin Garnett," Rivers said. "I don't think that will happen."

Instead, Rivers keeps his eye out for signs that a supporting player has grown tired of playing his role. He spent part of the summer calling around to other coaches who have won championships - some in basketball, some in other sports - to get advice on how to try to repeat.

"They all said the same thing about the role guys," Rivers said. "They played their role last year, but now they've been on all the parade tours. Will they think they're a role player anymore, or will they think they're one of the Big Four?"

Led by the new Big Three of NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett, the Celtics won their first title since 1986, the year the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won a third championship as a group.

This year's starting five is unchanged: Pierce, Garnett, Allen, point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins. Forwards Leon Powe and Glen Davis and guards Eddie House and Tony Allen should be key off the bench.

And Garnett thinks the Big Three can get better in a second season together.

"In every relationship there is room for improvement," he said. "The thing about the three of us is we constantly communicate. We constantly talk. We're on a common ground. We realize we have to set the dialogue and set the tone for that day."

Pierce sees a change in Garnett.

"If anything, Kevin's more intense this year. It makes all of the difference to the team," he said. "After you win, you're motivated even more to win it again."

Bobcats: Forward Jermareo Davidson was waived.

Lakers: The team picked up the fourth-year option on the contract of guard Jordan Farmar, a first-round pick in 2006.

Nets: Center Josh Boone returned to practice after missing more than a week because of a rapid heartbeat and said he will be ready for Wednesday's opener at Washington. ... Forward Eduardo Najera had his injured wrist examined by a doctor and is doubtful for the opener.

Raptors: The team exercised the fourth-year option on forward Andrea Bargnani, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft.

Rockets: Backup point guard Aaron Brooks, the team's first-round pick in 2007, will miss 1-3 weeks because of a bone bruise in his right ankle.

Wizards: The team exercised its third-year options on forward Oleksiy Pecherov, taken 18th overall in 2006, and guard Nick Young, chosen No. 16 overall in 2007.

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