Shaq could be back in lineup vs. Pacers
WALTHAM — The Celtics’ inside game could be returning to full strength. Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal went the distance in practice yesterday and Shaquille could return to the starting lineup against Indiana today.
Shaquille O’Neal has been out since Dec. 8 with right calf soreness and has missed nine games this season. Jermaine O’Neal (left knee) practiced at full speed for the first time since Dec. 9, but will not be on the active list today, according to coach Doc Rivers. Semih Erden (groin) did not participate in drills but could play.
“J.O. won’t play, Shaq may play,’’ Rivers said. “They looked tired. We went a little longer, we didn’t do a lot of running, we did a lot of instructional stuff. Overall it was a good practice — actually, it was a great practice, with a day off I thought our focus was as good as it’s been.’’
Jermaine O’Neal has been out with left knee soreness, playing in seven games.
“We won’t play him, but he looked good,’’ Rivers said of Jermaine O’Neal.
Rivers also confirmed Kevin Garnett will be available, though Celtic coaches attempted to limit his workout time.
“We kept bringing him in and out because his legs are sore,’’ Rivers said. “We tried to keep him out of practice — that may be a better way of putting it. He got into every drill, anyway. But we didn’t want him to. Kevin’s fine, he’s 100 percent. He’s just sore and when I hear that I don’t take chances. Especially right now, we can’t afford to.’’
Rivers has been able to manage Garnett’s minutes but has been extending Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
“Kevin’s minutes are still down, we haven’t raised his minutes at all,’’ Rivers said. “But Paul and Ray’s minutes are up right now and they may have to stay up, unfortunately. And we repay them back later.
“Listen, we don’t have enough guys. We were going to do small-lineup work and we realized that if we did it we didn’t have enough ‘smalls’ on the other team to guard the ‘smalls.’ We actually had more ‘bigs’ in practice, which was a delight.’’
Only six Celtics have performed in every game this season — Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, and Nate Robinson.
Erden, who overcame a shoulder injury earlier this season, made his fourth consecutive start in a 102-90 victory over Atlanta.
Rondo works out Rajon Rondo (ankle) worked out with the team but left the court before the final halfcourt drill . . . The Celtics (21-4) have had seven double-figure point margins on their 12-game win streak, and a total of nine double-figure wins this season. “Right now, we have so many things going on,’’ Rivers said. “We’re still winning games and I’m just trying to get to the next game. We’re at that one-game-at-a-time mode because we have no choice right now. It’s funny, but this has been a very difficult stretch for us.’’
Rivers is impressed Rivers on the Pacers: “I think they’re a playoff team. They have firepower and they have length. [Roy] Hibbert might be one of the most improved players in the league. And they’re healthy. You think about Indiana the last couple years, they had a lot of injuries, they struggled at the point guard spot. They’re a better team than I think people know.’’ . . . Avery Bradley made his sixth appearance of the season against Atlanta. “He’s not a point guard, yet,’’ Rivers said. “He struggled the other night. It’s great in practice and stuff, but you can see it when the game starts going fast and something bad happens to a young player. When Avery got stripped the other night and he didn’t defend anymore, he couldn’t think anymore.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.