LOS ANGELES - Rajon Rondo side-shuffled down the floor during the Boston Celtics' off-day stretching drills yesterday, lagging behind the teammates he usually sprints right past.

When the time came to jump, Rondo stood in place, unable to participate because of the ankle injury that left him on the bench for most of the second half during Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

The point guard said he has no intention of missing Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, but he left open the possibility that he wouldn't be effective enough to help his team. Boston leads the best-of-seven series, two games to one.

"Nobody in this league is 100 percent, but I'm sure I'll play," he said before practice at the Staples Center. "There's no way I'm going to miss the game, probably. I don't want to hurt the team and go out there and not give it my all, but I think I'm sure I'll be playing tomorrow night."

Wearing a hard plastic brace on his left ankle - and, when talking to reporters, no shoes - Rondo described the injury as a bone bruise. He felt less pain after treatment with ice and a night of rest, and he expects to feel even better with another 24 hours to heal.

"I can walk on it," Rondo said, adding that he wouldn't be able to wear that brace during the game. "I made a walk around the hotel and I was limping a little bit, but the farther I walked, the better it got."

Yesterday, Rondo was on the floor for the stretching drills; he took part in about half of them and appeared to be going about half-speed.

"He's very important to this team. He's a big reason why we win," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "He's the anchor of our defense. He's totally matured over the course of the year."

Rondo rolled his ankle early in the third quarter of Game 3 on Tuesday night. He returned in the fourth quarter for 31/2 minutes and made a basket to give him eight points in the game.

"It felt pretty good, but I was just running off adrenaline," he said. "After the game it swelled up a little bit, it got a little tight. But other than that, like I said, it's just time. It's going to be all right."

In Game 3, the Celtics made up for Rondo's absence with backups Eddie House and Sam Cassell. Coach Doc Rivers said he would also consider using Tony Allen at point guard because of his success covering Kobe Bryant during the season.

"It's the Finals. I don't want to hold anything back," Rondo said. "If I'm going out there at 50 percent, I don't want to hurt the team. Eddie and Sam do a great job of running the team, so I'll let them have it."

Del Negro and the Bulls.

The Bulls introduced new coach Vinny Del Negro at a news conference yesterday, ending a seven-week search in which they tried to lure Mike D'Antoni from the Phoenix Suns and discussed a return engagement with Doug Collins.

"Winning builds confidence and there's a young team here that needs a confidence boost, I think," said Del Negro, the Phoenix Suns' assistant general manager this season. "I'm not a magician. I just can't create things all of a sudden. It's going to be a daily process."

A 41-year-old former guard, Del Negro averaged 9.1 points in a little more than 11 seasons for Sacramento, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Golden State and Phoenix after playing for Jim Valvano at North Carolina State.

Now that Del Negro is in place, Chicago can turn its attention to the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and deciding between Memphis guard Derrick Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley. Both are scheduled to work out for the Bulls next week.

There are other issues to deal with, particularly since Luol Deng and Ben Gordon turned down contract extensions last year. Joakim Noah recently had a brush with the law, and Chris Duhon is an unrestricted free agent.

NBA:

Tonight's Game

Celtics-Lakers

9 p.m. (6ABC)