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Celtics Notebook

Rondo dismisses talk of injuries

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 19, 2011

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HOUSTON — The story is that Rajon Rondo is dealing with a sprained ankle and plantar fasciitis that’s nagged at him all season, and the ailments are catching up with the point guard as his minutes pile up.

“That’s what everybody keeps telling me,’’ Rondo said yesterday.

Kevin Garnett said Rondo is playing hurt. Celtics president Danny Ainge seconded it.

Rondo, however, said his recent struggles have nothing to do with injuries.

“Everybody’s asked me, am I hurt?’’ he said. “I’m fine. It’s an 82-game season. It’s long. Nothing is, I don’t think, too serious. We all have aches and pains, but I don’t think that it’s nothing that’s able to keep me out. I’m playing, I’m just not playing well.’’

Rondo missed 9 of 11 shots in last night’s 93-77 loss to the Rockets. In his last four games, he’s 4 for 29.

“It’s simple,’’ he said. “I’m just missing shots. That seems to be the biggest thing that stands out. I haven’t been making my shots lately, shots or layups. I’ve just got to try to continue and eventually I’ll just get through it.’’

Rondo admits he hasn’t been in the best help positions defensively as the team tries to find some chemistry. Rondo said the last time he felt completely in synch was “last year around this time.’’

“It’s hard to say, it’s not an excuse,’’ Rondo said. “We’re just not getting wins. We’re not producing offensively. It seems like we’re out of synch, but I can only speak for myself. I’m the point guard of the team, so I have to try to do a better job.’’

Present, but missing He blended in as well as a 7-foot-1-inch, 325-pound future Hall of Famer who had gone missing for about a month and a half could. After filing in with the rest of the Celtics yesterday, Shaquille O’Neal walked over to the nearest basket and started pushing against the stanchion, stretching out his 39-year-old frame.

He hasn’t played since Feb. 1, an inflamed Achilles’ the latest injury. But he rejoined the team yesterday with the hopes of playing on this three-game trip, while also ensuring he’d return before the end of the regular season.

“I’ll be back,’’ O’Neal said. “Even if I have to shoot it up, I’ll be back.’’

Although the Celtics originally expected O’Neal to miss two weeks, his hiatus stretched longer and longer. Last night marked his 19th straight game on the sidelines, and with both he and Jermaine O’Neal (left knee surgery) out, there was growing concern that the Celtics would be without two important pieces for the playoffs.

“You get nervous? Yeah, a little bit,’’ Shaquille O’Neal said. “But [coach] Doc [Rivers] and [trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] are very good about saying take your time in coming back. It’s getting real close. So like I said, I’m going to practice here in the next couple days and see if I can get back.’’

The Celtics play in New Orleans tonight and in New York on Monday, and although O’Neal said he wants to play one of the three games, Rivers wasn’t ready to commit to that.

“I doubt if he plays on this trip, but he’s close enough,’’ Rivers said. “When they get close, we always bring them on the trip. Because of shootarounds he can get involved in what we’re doing . . . At least he can do that and then we’ll go longer afterwards with the second group.’’

The Celtics will not practice on the trip, but there will be chances for O’Neal to get acquainted with a team that’s changed dramatically since he last suited up.

“I’ve got to get reacquainted with the offense,’’ O’Neal said. “Hopefully, we can get a little practice, maybe a game in to see where I’m really at.’’

Ideally, Rivers wants O’Neal with the starting unit when he returns. The Celtics are 27-9 with O’Neal as a starter.

“I don’t know if we’ll do it right away, but that’s the plan,’’ Rivers said.

O’Neal is averaging 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 21 minutes per game, but Rivers doesn’t know what the prolonged absence will mean for O’Neal’s timing or conditioning.

“The doctor’s are going to tell you he’s healthy. He is doing extra running. So it’s not like he’s just sitting around. And we’ll throw him out there,’’ Rivers said.’

The Celtics have been anticipating the return of one, if not both, O’Neals. In trading Kendrick Perkins at the deadline, they gambled that even though their two biggest offseason acquisitions had been limited by injuries, they’d be healthy in time for the postseason.

Ray Allen said seeing Shaquille O’Neal on the trip wasn’t nearly as important as having him in the lineup.

“He still isn’t on the floor,’’ Allen said. “Being on the floor is what I want to see. I want to see us full as a team. We’re focusing on winning a championship and being that core unit.’’

The value of Green Jeff Green had a team-high 17 points last night and he’s scored in double digits in six of the last eight games. He’s given the Celtics the perimeter bench scoring they’ve lacked since James Posey left in 2008.

In 11 games with the Celtics, Green is averaging 11.6 points and 23.5 minutes.

“As far as my role, being a scorer, I don’t look at it that way,’’ Green said. “I think my job in the second unit is just to bring energy, try to spark up what’s not there or continue what’s there.’’

Pushed to his limit Glen Davis was baffled at his second-quarter technical foul. He got into a heated exchange with Houston’s Jordan Hill after being pushed into the baseline seats and had to be separated from Hill. “If somebody pushes you, what are you going to do?’’ Davis said. “Say a couple words, right? I didn’t push back. I said a couple words and I got a tech.’’ . . . Early sluggishness has haunted the Celtics. Last night marked the fourth time in six games they trailed after the first quarter. “We should have that burden of starting off right and setting a tone,’’ said Allen.

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

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