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Plan for O’Neal hits snow delay

JERMAINE O’NEAL Surgery or no surgery? JERMAINE O’NEAL
Surgery or no surgery?
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 19, 2011

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Jermaine O’Neal went to New York yesterday to get a second opinion on his swollen left knee, but because of weather conditions, he hadn’t made it back to discuss his options with Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers.

O’Neal, who has missed 24 games, is considering surgery. The decision hinges on how long the procedure would keep him out and whether he’d be better off playing through the swelling.

Ainge said he and Rivers would likely sit down with O’Neal today to go over the next steps.

“Nothing’s going to happen right now,’’ Ainge said. “Except determining a course of action.’’

If the decision is not to have surgery, O’Neal would expect to play a healthy amount of minutes and still go on back-to-backs, but it would all be on a day-to-day basis, Ainge said. Rivers is all but sure that surgery would sideline O’Neal for the season, and he has said that he wants O’Neal on the floor.

If there is an operation that would keep O’Neal out for weeks rather than months, Rivers would prefer it. Otherwise, he would rather O’Neal play and monitor the knee throughout the season.

“We just want to maintain and monitor the swelling on the knee, which can cause a lot of different issues,’’ O’Neal said last week.

Health improving The oft-injured Celtics are starting to get pieces back.

Kendrick Perkins expects to return in February, six months after surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Delonte West has been testing out the right wrist he broke in November and is scheduled to begin lightly catching and dribbling with his off hand this week.

“We’re getting close,’’ Paul Pierce said. “I can’t really pinpoint that time where it’s going to happen where we can say we’ve got Perk, we’ve got Delonte, we’ve got JO, we’ve got these guys healthy that’ve been out for so long.

“I think in the back of our mind, we wonder what we’re going to look like when we’re full strength because we haven’t been able to see that yet and we’re still able to pull out a lot of games.’’

The Celtics got 28 points from their bench in Monday’s win over the Magic, led by Glen Davis’s 15. When Perkins returns, Rivers envisions him in the starting spot, which would mean Shaquille O’Neal would join the second unit, giving it another offensive threat.

“Obviously, it’s going to help our starters, it’s really going to help our bench,’’ Rivers said. “The starters are going to be good regardless. But when you can have Baby and Shaq with Nate [Robinson] and Delonte, that’s good for us.

“Now, I’m concerned because they haven’t played together all year, but we have enough time if they can get back quick enough.’’

Timely presence Shaquille O’Neal followed up his 23-point effort against the Bobcats Friday with a 12-point night against the Magic, but the 61 combined minutes were the most he has logged in consecutive games this season.

Playing against Dwight Howard while being shorthanded on big men made O’Neal’s presence a necessity.

“Just his size, his presence, it allowed us some driving lanes,’’ Rivers said. “Dwight usually blocks 10 shots, but it’s tough for him to leave Shaq.’’

Rivers tries to limit O’Neal’s floor time, but the 35 minutes against Charlotte were a season high.

“I think these last couple games he’s been real energetic, real vocal, and it’s helping us,’’ Kevin Garnett said. “To have him in there is a big deal. He’s the biggest presence on the court.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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