Shaping up to be some return

Perkins working his way back

Kendrick Perkins is sweating out when he will be allowed to rejoin the Celtics’ lineup after rehabilitating his right knee. Kendrick Perkins is sweating out when he will be allowed to rejoin the Celtics’ lineup after rehabilitating his right knee. (File/Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 24, 2011

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As the Celtics find it impossible to keep their big men healthy, Kendrick Perkins impatiently awaits his chance to return. He pointed to Feb. 4, and, so far, coach Doc Rivers has not disputed that date, which is an encouraging sign.

Rivers usually forces his injured players to wait additional time after trainer Ed Lacerte clears them to play. He did that this season with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo.

Perkins has not played since Game 6 of the NBA Finals and his progress from right anterior cruciate ligament surgery has been remarkable. Perkins is perhaps in even better shape than he was at any time last season, and he sits on the end of the bench at games realizing his arduous rehabilitation is nearly complete.

“He’s been working pretty well. We’ll see, I’m not sure,’’ Rivers said Saturday of Perkins being available next week for the home game against the Mavericks. “He looks good in practice, I will say that. He’s running well. He’s working hard. I don’t know if I’ve seen him or any guy work as hard as he’s worked. He really wants to get back. He wants to get to playing. He knows it’s going to take time once you get on the floor. He’s doing the work.’’

It’s not that Rivers doubted Perkins, but a burly center coming back from a major knee injury is always a concern, and this was the first major injury of Perkins’s career. His return to practice has the coaching staff thinking about the potential of the desired starting five reuniting for the second half of the season.

Perkins watched as Shaquille O’Neal missed the Celtics’ 85-83 loss Saturday night to the Wizards, forcing Rivers to start rookie Semih Erden at center. O’Neal has experienced his share of age-related injuries this season, while Jermaine O’Neal has played in just 17 games because of issues with his left knee.

Team president Danny Ainge signed the graybeards to compensate for the loss of Perkins, but the Celtics have managed without either being healthy at the same time, and have received very little from Jermaine O’Neal. And remember when there actually was a debate as to whether Perkins would regain his starting position with two perennial All-Stars filling that position?

The Celtics can’t wait to stick Perkins with the Big Four where he belongs.

“I’m just counting down the days but slowly grinding, trying to make sure I’m in the best game shape possible,’’ he said. “I know it’s hard to be in just complete basketball shape, but I’m working hard at it and just anxious to get back out there to just help a little bit.’’

While Shaquille O’Neal has had his share of big moments during his brief Celtics tenure, his nagging injuries have shaken Rivers’s confidence in his ability to play consistently. Just last week O’Neal, who has missed 10 games, sat out practice with a strained abductor when he slipped on ice, and he didn’t travel to Washington because of a sore hip.

His status for tomorrow’s home game against the Cavaliers is unknown, and Rivers is eagerly waiting for the reliable Perkins to come back.

“He knows our stuff so well, it’s amazing,’’ Rivers said. “We’ve been good offensively this year, but when he’s in practice, we’ve been really good. Because we can run stuff we ran two years ago out of a [call] that he knows. Timing is so important and he gets all that. Yeah, he’ll be able to come back quicker because of that.’’

And yet the Celtics are an Eastern Conference-best 33-10 without Perkins, one of their best defensive players. Rivers can only wonder how Perkins’s presence would have affected Washington’s JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche in the second half Saturday.

“Just sitting out for six months, I’ve learned a lot,’’ Perkins said. “It’s been hell, to be honest. I just find motivation within, go out there and encourage teammates. One thing I can say about my teammates, about Doc and the coaching staff, they always made me feel wanted, even throughout this whole injury. With that you just stay positive. I’ve been just trying to stay supportive.’’

And there is extra incentive for Perkins to regain his status as one of the league’s top defensive centers. He is a free agent at season’s end and could garner a career-defining contract extension. If the Celtics allow him to hit the open market, he could be one of the most sought-after players under a new collective bargaining agreement.

“I’m trying not to think about it,’’ said the 26-year-old Perkins, who has played his entire career in Boston. “I always say, whatever happens, happens. Obviously I want to be here. I’ve been here for eight years. I ain’t trying to leave. Hopefully at the end of the year the Celtics still have plans on me being part of their future and we can just move from there.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at

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