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Celtics notebook

Jermaine O’Neal near return

Veteran plans to practice tomorrow

Pacers center Roy Hibbert, backing down Jeff Green, played a sizable role last night, scoring 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting. Pacers center Roy Hibbert, backing down Jeff Green, played a sizable role last night, scoring 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 29, 2011

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INDIANAPOLIS — After having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and sitting out more than two months, Jermaine O’Neal rejoined the Celtics yesterday in Indiana — a short flight from where he had been training in Chicago — and said he would be ready to play as soon as Thursday in San Antonio, though coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t commit to that plan.

“I’m able to go,’’ O’Neal said. “No limitations.’’

Rivers said, “I think Jermaine has his own personal time clock. We’ll see. I hope, that would be great.’’

The Celtics will rest today and practice tomorrow. That’s when Rivers will get his first look at O’Neal on the court since the operation.

“There’s a chance [he could play Thursday], but I doubt it,’’ said Rivers. “It’s just so quick. Honestly, the only way is if we had some other injury or something. Even then, I doubt if I’d do it. I’d go with the six guys we’d have in uniform.’’

O’Neal has missed 56 games this season. His knee problems were diagnosed in November, but he elected to rest rather than have surgery. But in January, he reconsidered, going through with the operation knowing he wouldn’t get back until the final weeks of the regular season.

“You make your decisions and you stand with them,’’ O’Neal said. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose time. That’s what we’re fighting with: losing time. And you end up losing it anyway. It’s hard to regret stuff. You make decisions and you go with it. You wish it would have happened differently.

“In a perfect world, should I have done it earlier? Absolutely . . . We exhausted all our options and then got to a point where there was no more options.’’

Having traded Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics are counting on Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal to return and contribute to any potential playoff run.

“They’ve been without us for most of the year,’’ O’Neal said. “It’s even tougher when you’re watching the games. I’m watching the games and they look tired. You want to do whatever you can do to give them a break.

“I feel a lot more comfortable doing different things now than I did before I got hurt.’’

O’Neal, who is listed at 255 pounds, said he’s dropped 12 pounds. Even though the 32-year-old says he feels as good as he has since last season, Rivers isn’t sure what to expect.

“I know Shaq, what he gives you, because of his size. With Jermaine, it’s going to take more of his play. So I think we’ll wait and see how that turns out,’’ the coach said.

Rondo in action Point guard Rajon Rondo, who sat out Sunday night’s win over the Timberwolves with a sprained right pinkie, returned to the lineup last night and had 22 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) and eight assists in a 107-100 loss to the Pacers.

Not long after Rivers had told reporters Rondo wasn’t playing, Rondo tested his pinkie in warm-ups and told the coach he could play.

“My hand feels great,’’ he told Rivers. “The swelling’s all gone. I know you want to sit me one more game, but I don’t know what the difference would be.’’

Rivers didn’t argue the logic.

“He could get hit on it today or Thursday, it’s still going to hurt,’’ Rivers said.

Rondo played 40 minutes, attacking from the start. The Celtics shot 54.8 percent from the floor.

“That’s how he’s got to play every night,’’ Rivers said. “His speed was a factor. We haven’t seen that in a long while and that’s terrific. It’s amazing when he does that, obviously what it does for our offense. It’s really good.’’

Some assumed Sunday’s rest was as much a mental health day for Rondo as a physical one.

“That’s not going into it honestly,’’ Rivers said. “He had [time off], so it could be either good or bad timing, whichever way you want to look at it.’’

Rondo injured the pinkie in New Orleans March 19, then aggravated it Friday against Charlotte.

“I hit it a couple times [last night],’’ Rondo said. “But it didn’t affect me to the point that I couldn’t function or catch the ball.’’

He expects the issue to linger but will play through it.

“It’ll be what it is for the rest of the season probably,’’ Rondo said.

It was his time The biggest adjustment Delonte West had to make as a starter Sunday night was the increase in minutes. He played a season-high 31 against the Timberwolves, far above his 18.7 average in 15 games. “Because he’s missed so many games, I’m sure he gets tired,’’ Rivers said. “But one of the things I told the whole team is, just point to me. I like when they do that.’’ . . . A limited number of tickets for the first two games of the Celtics’ opening-round playoff series will go on sale Thursday at 11 a.m. There’s a three-ticket limit per customer. Seats start at $12. Tickets can be purchased through the team’s website, by calling 1-800-462-2849, or by visiting the TD Garden box office . . . Members of the 1968-69 Celtics championship team will be at Shriner’s Auditorium in Wilmington for a sports memorabilia show from Friday-Sunday. Bill Russell, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, and Satch Sanders are scheduled to be in attendance.

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

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