|The return of Shaquille O’Neal would be a reason to smile for Celtics fans. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
O’Neal expected to play a role
Rivers confident center will return
WALTHAM — Celtics coach Doc Rivers believes Shaquille O’Neal will be involved in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Heat, he just doesn’t know when.
“Maybe [Game] 1, maybe [Game] 2,’’ Rivers said yesterday. “But I do think he’ll play.
“I’m more confident now that he will play in the series.’’
Rivers said he was basing his prediction on input from trainer Ed Lacerte.
“Eddie’s more confident that he’ll play, so that makes me more confident,’’ Rivers said before practice.
“He needs to show something tomorrow and then feel better after that. My confidence comes from Eddie now. I mean, Eddie walked in today, said I feel a lot better about him. So, I feel better about him.’’
O’Neal has played in only one game, for five minutes, since Feb. 1 because of a right calf strain.
“It’s important, I just think he gives us another guy with size and just more physicality,’’ Rivers said. “Just coming in and being Shaq, being physical. Because when he walks on the floor, he’s 7 feet tall-plus, and he weighs what he weighs. So he, of all the players on the team, has the easiest task of being who they are, because that’s all he can be. And that’s pretty good. He’s another guy with size, so more physicality.’’
New season There might be some who will point to the three wins by the Celtics over the Heat this year — Miami won the fourth regular-season matchup — as a factor in the second-round series.
Don’t count Kevin Garnett among them.
“Everything we’ve done up to this point is just history,’’ Garnett said.
“Playoffs [are] a new season, a new situation, a new scenario.’’
So a 3-1 record against LeBron James & Co. doesn’t mean anything?
“No,’’ Garnett said. “Not at all.’’
Instead of regular-season meetings, Garnett singled out an area he feels will play a much larger role in determining who advances to the conference finals.
“Rebounding is going to be a real, real big part of this series,’’ he said. “I think whoever wins or goes forward is going to be the team that rebounds.’’
Having Rajon Rondo creating all kinds of triple-double chaos wouldn’t hurt, either.
Rondo took advantage of a Knicks defense that gave him some space in the four-game sweep in the first round, and made them pay every which way, averaging 19 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 12 assists. His Game 3 triple-double (15 points, 11 rebounds, 20 assists) may have been the signature performance of the series, at least for the Celtics.
“Rondo’s a pain when he’s aggressive,’’ Garnett said. “When he’s stacking the stat line, then he’s a problem to deal with and we’re a problem to deal with.’’
Lost in transition With two of the best finishers in James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat always look to score in transition, another point of emphasis for the Celtics. Philadelphia held Miami in check during their opening series, outscoring the Heat on fast-break points in four of the five games.
The Celtics would love to have similar success.
When asked what his biggest concern was heading into the series, Celtics president Danny Ainge said, “Just giving them easy baskets. They’re great after steals, terrific in transition if they have a numbers advantage. LeBron and Wade are two of the best in the game at that. We need to take care of the ball.’’
Said Paul Pierce: “They’re a track team once they get out in transition, and it’s hard to keep up with them, so you don’t want to turn the ball over.’’
That task will primarily fall on Rondo, who had an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 3-to-1 in the Knicks series, numbers that match his regular-season statistics.
“You can’t win if you turn the ball over,’’ Rondo said, “so we’ll make sure to take care of the ball, and it starts with myself.’’
Short on time Delonte West averaged just 13.5 minutes in the Knicks series, and scored a total of 8 points. Ainge knows why, and it’s no knock on West. “When Rajon is playing at the level that he was playing at in the New York series, I think it’s hard for his backup to get in any sort of rhythm,’’ Ainge said. “I don’t worry about that. If Rajon was hurt and Delonte played 25 minutes and played poorly, then you could say he didn’t play very well.’’ . . . The Celtics will practice once more in Waltham today before flying to Miami . . . Before taking any questions from the media, Rivers asked who his beloved Chicago Bears took in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night. Nobody knew.