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Celtics notebook

Shaq could return

Sunday, Tuesday are possibilities

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 1, 2011

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SAN ANTONIO — When it comes to Shaquille O’Neal and the timetable for his return from an inflamed right Achilles’ tendon, the Celtics’ policy essentially has been to keep it vague but optimistic.

“He’ll be back in two weeks.’’

“He’ll be back after the All-Star break.’’

“He’ll be back in a week.’’

“He’s coming with us on the next road trip.’’

Twenty-six games later, O’Neal is still sidelined.

Yesterday, Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers tried a different approach, specifying possible dates for the 39-year-old center’s return.

Ainge told WEEI that O’Neal will play either Sunday against Detroit or Tuesday against Philadelphia.

Rivers added caution to the optimism. “We’re hoping,’’ he said.

Having seen one general return date after another get pushed back, Rivers didn’t find much to lose in getting his hopes up again.

“The other way hasn’t worked,’’ Rivers said. “So, yeah, he’s playing Tuesday. What the hell? I tried it the other way. It hasn’t worked, so let’s jinx him or do something. We need him back.’’

O’Neal had shown signs of improvement as he traveled with the Celtics to Houston, New Orleans, and New York, but when the team returned home last week, he was back in a walking boot and had taken a cortisone shot. But Rivers said O’Neal was running back in Boston while the team was making its last extended road trip of the season.

On his weekly appearance on WEEI, Ainge said, “I was just with Shaq, we were just working out down in Waltham. Shaq is either going to play Sunday or Tuesday.’’

Even if O’Neal does return, it’s unknown how much he can contribute. He has averaged 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 20.7 minutes in 36 games this season.

“Who knows how well he can play?’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know that answer.

“The good thing with him is that he’s still big and strong. The good thing is that it’s not like he’s a focal point offensively.’’

Without Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics have lacked the size that made them the league’s most imposing team at the start of the season. The problem became more pronounced once Kendrick Perkins was traded to Oklahoma City.

Jermaine O’Neal returned to the lineup last night after missing more than two months following arthroscopic knee surgery.

Krstic injures knee Nenad Krstic will have an MRI on his right knee tomorrow after the joint appeared to bend backward with 2:19 left in the second quarter of the Celtics’ 107-97 win over the Spurs last night.

Krstic left the game and did not return, and Rivers said the center won’t be available for tonight’s game against the Hawks in Atlanta or Sunday’s tilt against the Pistons in Boston.

“He’s out obviously this weekend and an MRI,’’ Rivers said. “That’s as far as I’m going to go.’’

The Celtics acquired Krstic and Jeff Green in the deadline trade that sent Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City. Krstic had started every game since the deal.

Last night, Glen Davis was his immediate replacement, playing 32 minutes.

Jermaine O’Neal, who collected 5 points and two rebounds in 11 minutes, may see his time increase quickly.

“It’s crazy. I told him he came back right on time,’’ said Paul Pierce of Jermaine O’Neal. “We need him. We need these bodies late in the season. Hopefully, Krstic, he’s not too hurt.’’

Rondo on target The play was designed to build a human fence for Rajon Rondo to shoot over. Davis and Kevin Garnett locked arms at the free throw line, forming a soccer-like wall to give Rondo the room he needed to knock down a 20-foot jumper that made it 84-76 in the fourth quarter. “The free kick?’’ Garnett said with a laugh. “As much as I would like to take credit for that, I can’t. That’s Doc Rivers drawing it up.’’ “It looked like a wedge in football,’’ Rivers said. “It was a hilarious play in some ways.’’ The mid-range jumper has been Rondo’s Achilles’ heel, but last night he knocked down 11 of 20 shots and he was 5 of 8 on shots from 10 feet or deeper . . . Once the Celtics wrapped up practice Wednesday, Rivers caught a flight to Chicago to see his son play in the McDonald’s All-American game. Austin Rivers, who is headed to Duke in the fall, honored his father during Tuesday night’s dunk contest, breaking out Doc’s old Atlanta Hawks jersey and throwing down a windmill. “It was really cool because he didn’t tell anybody, including me,’’ Doc Rivers said.

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