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Celtics piece it together

Healthier outlook as playoffs near

Delonte West’s return helped the Celtics’ reserves dominate their Pacers counterparts Wednesday night. Delonte West’s return helped the Celtics’ reserves dominate their Pacers counterparts Wednesday night. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 18, 2011

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Everybody’s looking for an update. Delonte West talks on the phone with Jermaine O’Neal, then checks to see if Shaquille O’Neal is in the practice facility working out. Both O’Neals check in with trainer Ed Lacerte, who then gives coach Doc Rivers the skinny.

Carlos Arroyo has been hearing it from Kevin Garnett since he arrived in Boston. The Celtics will be a different team once everyone gets back.

Wednesday night’s win over the Pacers only made them more eager to get bodies back. West returned after missing eight games with a sprained ankle. His comeback came four games after Glen Davis shook off a strained left patellar tendon. With the reinforcements, the second unit dominated the Pacers’ bench, outscoring them, 39-24.

They’ve been telling themselves all season, “Wait until [insert name here] gets back.’’ Now, they’re inserting names.

“What you’re starting to see is the pieces coming together,’’ Garnett said.

Still, how long they’ll have to wait to see a completed puzzle is a question no one can answer. Although he’s in the area, after spending time after the All-Star break in Orlando, Fla., the timetable for Shaquille O’Neal’s return is uncertain. Jermaine O’Neal is working out in Chicago. Von Wafer expects to be back in two weeks after straining his right calf March 4 against Golden State.

Quietly, Shaquille O’Neal’s return has gone from a matter of “when’’ to “if’’, but with the trade deadline and buyout additions, and the returns of Davis and West, Rivers feels he has enough to supplement the starters with or without the O’Neals.

“Right now, I don’t really look at who’s not here,’’ Rivers said. “We finally have enough guys. You can play with this group. I’m just excited about that.’’

Shaquille O’Neal averaged 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 20.7 minutes, and when he was on the floor, Rajon Rondo had another future Hall of Famer at his disposal.

Rondo’s numbers have dropped lately, a result of playing too many minutes. But with O’Neal in the lineup, he went on assist binges. If the Celtics get O’Neal back in time for the playoffs, Nenad Krstic would join the second unit, making the Celtics incredibly deep.

“If we get Shaq back, then it’s going to make us a better team,’’ said Davis. “Just with his dominance and the way we played [against the Pacers].’’

The question is how big is the “if’’?

West is confident pieces will fall into place and optimistic about how things will play out once they do.

“Guys are excited, even with the recent losses,’’ West said. “We’re excited about what we can be. I talked to [Jermaine O’Neal] a couple of days ago and he’s excited. He called me from Chicago. He’s excited to get back. He’s working hard out there.

“Shaq, I see him in the gym every day. He’s either telling jokes or working hard and that just adds to this unit that we already have. We’re excited over here.’’

Arroyo is waiting to see it come together.

“KG keeps telling me, until we have everybody, you’ll see how we really can play and how our rotation will look that much better,’’ he said. “Guys coming in knowing their roles makes it that much better, especially on a team that has that many good players. If everybody understands what they need to do with the minutes they give us, we’re going to be great down the stretch.’’

It’s a star-studded cast on paper. But the team is looking for strong supporting roles rather than the cameos they’ve seen so far.

“This is like a good movie and you haven’t even seen all of it," Garnett said. "As a matter of fact, I’m going to use Ocean’s Eleven. You haven’t seen Matt Damon. You haven’t seen Brad Pitt. You haven’t seen Bernie Mac. You’ve just seen Clooney and a couple other guys.’’

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

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