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A healthier outlook

Celtics welcome Garnett’s return

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 16, 2011

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Rajon Rondo had a rewarding start to the season, filled with assists and Celtic victories. But there have been some painful days since, with ankle, hamstring, and plantar fasciitis problems causing him to miss 11 games.

But Rondo is doing fine now. And the Celtics will need Rondo to remain healthy as they prepare to host Orlando tomorrow. Kevin Garnett is expected to return from a calf injury but Jermaine O’Neal is contemplating knee surgery.

“I’m not 100 percent, but I felt great,’’ Rondo said after the Celtics’ 99-94 win over Charlotte Friday night. “I was explosive. But not 100 percent.’’

Rondo, who leads the Celtics in minutes with 37.5 per game, did not get as much down time as hoped against the Bobcats. Charlotte stayed in contention until late in the final quarter, the Bobcats’ quickness causing problems for the Celtics. Semih Erden and Paul Pierce committed five fouls, leading to more minutes for Ray Allen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rondo.

Rondo took command as the Celtics clinched the result in the late going, following two Allen 3-pointers with a shot-clock 3-pointer, then stepping into a jumper out of a timeout with 11 seconds on the shot clock for the Celtics’ final field goal with 2:49 remaining.

Garnett’s return should help the Celtics gain equilibrium.

“Obviously, the game changes from a communication standpoint to the pick-and-roll,’’ Rondo said of Garnett’s presence. “He changes the game a lot. He’s definitely a low-post presence, as well.

“We definitely miss him. I wanted him back a couple games ago, but he has to take care of his body, be conscious. Same as he told me when I was down — be smart. We just try to hold them down as much as possible until he comes back.’’

Rondo also talked about trying to coax the best out of Glen Davis, who replaced Garnett in the lineup.

“I tell him to keep shooting,’’ Rondo said. “It all starts in the gym, in practice — go out there and make shots, work hard, and continue do what he’s been doing this season.

“I use Ray as an example. He’s the best shooter in the world. He comes in early and gets extra shots. Try to follow him, he leads by example. I try to give advice, encourage players, try to get him easy baskets and get to the free throw line.’’

Rondo’s assist average is up — 13.4 per game — partly because of the addition of Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal, who scored 23 points in a season-high 35 minutes against the Bobcats, is facing a difficult duel with Orlando center Dwight Howard tomorrow.

“If they both stay out of foul trouble . . .,’’ Rondo said. “Round 2, I’m sure [O’Neal] is up for the challenge.

“I don’t know if he’s psyched. He’s a competitive guy. He’s not going to back down from a challenge. We’ve got a lot of guys, they’re all looking forward to the challenge.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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