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Davis facing a tall order

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / November 11, 2010

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MIAMI — Glen Davis sat in his chair at American Airlines Center in Dallas as if he had just been blindsided by Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Davis was exhausted, sore, and writhing in pain.

He took a charge from Caron Butler in the first half against the Mavericks, and in that collision took a shot to the groin. He left the game, and because the Celtics were without an experienced, legitimate center, returned to play 21:42 of a 24-minute second half.

He had a right to be fatigued. Rajon Rondo, noticed his teammate’s condition and suggested treatment — ice, massages — even when he healthy. It could be a long season for Davis, especially if he has to spell injured centers Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal for extended periods.

Both O’Neals are questionable tonight against the Heat, meaning Davis and rookie Semih Erden could be all the Celtics have at center with perhaps some help from Kevin Garnett.

The Celtics weren’t kidding themselves when they signed the O’Neals to two-year contracts. Injuries were going to be a major part of the equation with both, but the organization expected they would stay healthy in the first two weeks.

The duo has played two games together — the season-opening win against Miami and the loss at Cleveland a night later. Since then, both have been alternating between the court and whirlpools.

“I actually told you guys that there will be games where we’ll have neither guy and it’s just what it is,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s why we’re trying to get Semih as many minutes as possible. When they’re both healthy and both playing, we’re really good. We just haven’t had that this year. For us we just have to get through it. Obviously it’s a little earlier than I anticipated but we’re prepared for it.’’

Rivers even hinted at the idea of signing another big man, meaning the club would have to release somebody on the roster.

“We had 15 guys, No. 1, so if we did that we’d have to release someone, we would,’’ “But the one thing we’ve all learned, there’s usually not a lot of bigs wandering around. There’s just not a lot out there. We just have to try to get them healthy as much as possible because we have to try to win games during the regular season too, so we need them.’’

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he has no plans to sign a free-agent center. He appears content to wait for the O’Neals to get healthy.

“Right now Jermaine and Shaq are both healthy,’’ Ainge said. “Jermaine is sore and we’re managing it. But he’s not out for any extended period of time. We have four 7-footers. We just hope there’s one or two of them available each night.

“I’m always ready to do something if we need to, but not yet.’’

Although Ainge is content for the aging big men to heal, the dynamic of the Celtics defense is unquestionably affected without a legitimate center. Kendrick Perkins took care of the interior defense the past few years, but he won’t return until at least January, because of right knee surgery.

Without Jermaine O’Neal’s shot-blocking presence in the second half against Dallas, Davis was forced to defend 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki and 7-1 Tyson Chandler. Nowitzki put the Mavericks ahead for good with 17.9 seconds left with a 16-footer over the smaller Davis.

The team’s long-term success depends heavily on a defense-minded center, so the health of the O’Neal duo is important until Perkins returns. While the Celtics are still talented enough to win with Davis and Erden in the middle, even the presence of Jermaine (because of his shot-blocking) and Shaquille (because of his girth and rebounding ability) will make a difference.

“Definitely, you miss that other dimension you could bring to the table,’’ forward Paul Pierce said about missing the O’Neals. “When Baby is out there, he’s that energy off the bench, so they take that away. It takes away from our inside presence defensively with our length, and shot blocking with Jermaine and Shaq. I think Baby is a great player for us but he’s more suited for this team in coming off the bench and providing that energy.

“It’s just hurts our depth when [Davis] is pretty much the end-of-the-game guy and when you come to the end of the game and Baby has been playing extended minutes, it’s different.’’

Ainge knew he was taking a chance by signing two aging centers to replace the injured Perkins and he’s confident both will overcome nagging injuries to be productive. Right now, patience is his best option.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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