Garnett returns to practice
O’Neal may need knee procedure
WALTHAM — Still twisting their way through a Rubik’s cube of injury issues, the Celtics are optimistic about Kevin Garnett returning soon after seeing him in practice yesterday, but now they must now deal with the possibility of Jermaine O’Neal needing in-season surgery to ease the swelling in his surgically repaired left knee.
After missing eight games with a strained right calf, Garnett returned to practice yesterday. He was projected to be out for two weeks, and even though coach Doc Rivers said he was progressing well enough to play tonight against the Bobcats, the plan is to get Garnett to complete a practice over the weekend and perhaps play Monday when the Magic come to TD Garden.
“He looked pretty good,’’ said Rivers. “Actually, besides his movement and stuff, I thought his wind was really good. I want to see another practice, but he’s getting close.
“There were a couple of times where I wanted him off the floor and he stayed on the floor. He did all the pick-and-roll defense live. We went up and down and he did all that live.’’
O’Neal’s situation looks more serious. When knee issues crept up in November, the Celtics shut down O’Neal for nearly six weeks. He returned for two weeks, played 10 games, and averaged about 18 minutes before having to leave Friday’s win over the Raptors with swelling.
O’Neal sat out Wednesday’s win over the Kings and underwent an MRI yesterday. Rivers seemed resigned to the idea that O’Neal would need surgery.
“Honestly, I think my guess is that they’re going to have to do something,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know, I’m just using my doctorate right now. My guess is they’ll probably have to do something.’’
Making an appearance on WEEI yesterday, O’Neal said, “It is something that I will eventually need, at some point — at the end of the season or if it’s in-season — but you want to be around. You don’t want to miss extended periods of time, and for myself, I already did that.’’
Injuries have marred O’Neal’s career the past six seasons, but after he played 72 games for the Heat a year ago, the Celtics were willing to take the risk.
“I was encouraged,’’ Rivers said. “I was also very cautious because we knew that this could happen.’’
With the frontcourt already thin, Semih Erden sat out yesterday with a pulled groin.
“It puts more pressure on us,’’ said Rivers. “Obviously, we didn’t know the Kevin part and we didn’t know the Semih part. We thought they would be healthy. But listen, everybody goes through something, and you’ve just got to get through it.’’
Strong addition When they played together in New York, Charles Oakley was the enforcer that Rivers could count on to back him up if a melee ever broke out. Now, Oakley has landed his first assistant coaching job with the Bobcats.
With him on the other sideline tonight, Rivers evaluated the odds if a fight broke out.
“I used to think that if there’s ever a team brawl, that our coaching staff could probably win,’’ said Rivers. “I don’t think that anymore. With Charles Oakley and Paul Silas on the sideline, that’s not the case.
“Oak and Silas. Those might be two of the toughest guys in the last 20 years to play the game. I’ve got a feeling the players will listen.’’
Silas replaced Larry Brown as Bobcats coach Dec. 22 and brought in Oakley, who is close friends with team owner Michael Jordan. After the Celtics embarrassed Charlotte, 93-62, on their home floor Dec. 11, the Bobcats were 8-15 and Brown sounded as if he had run out of ways to reach his team.
Since the coaching change, the Bobcats are 6-2, and young players such as Tyrus Thomas, Gerald Henderson, and D.J. Augustin are thriving.
“They’re playing well, they really are,’’ Rivers said. “I think Augustin is really playing well of late. They’re running a little bit more, so they’re on a nice little roll here.’’
The Celtics have won five straight against Charlotte.
Star-crossed Garnett’s injury is costing him in All-Star balloting. He dropped out of the second starting forward spot in the most recent returns, losing ground to Knicks scoring machine Amar’e Stoudemire. Miami’s LeBron James is first among forwards. Stoudemire would be the first Knick to start an All-Star Game since Patrick Ewing in 1992. Chicago’s Derrick Rose has been a highlight waiting to happen, and after dropping 36 on the Celtics last weekend, he vaulted to second among guards behind Dwyane Wade, pushing Rajon Rondo out of the potential starting backcourt. Rondo made his first All-Star team last season.
Down time Following the path of nearly every Celtics rookie since 2008, Avery Bradley will likely be sent to the D-League today. “He needs to play basketball,’’ Rivers said. “He’s just sitting, especially in the stretch where we didn’t practice at all.’’ . . . Kendrick Perkins continued to do skeleton drills in practice, avoiding any live contact with the team. He’s anticipating a return to full practice next week . . . Delonte West did more shooting yesterday following practice, though hardly touching the ball with his right hand . . . Tonight is Seats for Soldiers night, as fans can donate their tickets to members of the armed services. Ray Allen spoke to troops in Kuwait via teleconference yesterday morning from the Celtics’ practice facility.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.