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O’Neal can’t find his game

Center’s offense has escaped him

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 29, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS - Jermaine O’Neal slumped at his locker at American Airlines Arena in Miami Tuesday night. He was upset about his scoreless performance in 22 minutes in the Celtics’ loss to the Heat.

Entering last night’s game against the Hornets, he has produced little after an impressive training camp.

The question for the Celtics is how long they can go with a center who is not an offensive threat.

“I’ve just got to figure out a way to get involved,’’ said O’Neal, who scored 2 points in 21 minutes in a 97-78 loss to the Hornets. “These early fouls take me out of the flow of the game. Whatever it is, I will figure it out.

“The good thing about this season, you have an opportunity the next night, the next night, and maybe three nights after that.’’

O’Neal has shot 3 for 12 in 60 minutes. He has 13 fouls in three games.

“Hopefully, you get the benefit of the doubt from the refs, and for some apparent reason, that really isn’t happening,’’ O’Neal said. “They are going to make calls, and I have had multiple refs apologize for some of the calls they have made.’’

O’Neal said he is still adjusting to being a complementary player on offense.

“Just keep talking to Doc [Rivers] and to the team and figure out where I fit in this offensive scheme,’’ he said. “You’ve just got to keep trying to find your way.

“I’ve been around the league for a long time, and I’ve been used to getting touches in the low post, but that is just not my position on this team.’’

Said Rivers, “I’m not worried about Jermaine. He just has to stay within his role and defend and block shots, rebound. And the offensive part will come. Offense is not our concern; we’re doing pretty well offensively. What we’re struggling with is our defense.’’

In a zone

Rivers does not like to use zone defense, but because of the Celtics’ overall age and the shortened season, he wants to preserve his players by reducing movement on defense. It worked somewhat Tuesday, as the Heat struggled from the perimeter and were unable to penetrate often on drives.

“We worked on it all last year, we just never used it,’’ Rivers said. “We knew going into this year we would use it early. We worked on it every day.

“We thought the first time we used it, especially, it would catch the team off-guard because I guarantee they didn’t have a walk-through worrying about a Celtics zone. It had an impact, which was great, but we don’t want to use it as a crutch. We want to use it as another defensive weapon.’’

Wilcox sits

Chris Wilcox was sitting in the locker room before last night’s game with a large ice pack on his left shoulder, unsure how it was bruised against the Heat. X-rays were negative, but Wilcox was out of the lineup and is questionable for tomorrow’s home opener against his former team, the Pistons.

“I felt a sharp pain in the joint and then I went to box out and it really started hurting,’’ he said. “I don’t know what was going on. It’s still a little bit sore but I’ll be all right. I’ll be back in there, whenever I feel right.’’

Wilcox had been the second forward off the bench, after Brandon Bass. Last night, Greg Stiemsma, who had not played in the first two games, blocked six shots in 20 minutes.

Pierce improving

Paul Pierce was out again, and reiterated that when he returns, it won’t be a surprise. “If I am coming back [tomorrow], I will tweet it [today]. You’ll have 24-hour notice.’’ Pierce’s bruised right heel is improving, but Rivers did not want to take a chance on pushing him . . . Rivers said rookie E’Twaun Moore is expected to take Avery Bradley’s bench minutes beginning tomorrow against Detroit. Bradley has not scored in 19 minutes this season . . . There was a Purdue reunion before the game when Moore and JaJuan Johnson chatted with Hornets forward Carl Landry . . . Hornets guard Eric Gordon missed last night’s game because of a bruised right knee sustained during the team’s opening win over the Suns . . . Rivers said the technical fouls against O’Neal and Sasha Pavlovic in the season-opening loss to the Knicks were rescinded by the NBA. Both were called by Joey Crawford for arguing.

Gary Washburn can be reached at

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