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Celtics notebook

O’Neal thrown right into mix

No easing back with Krstic out

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 2, 2011

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ATLANTA — If coach Doc Rivers and trainer Ed Lacerte had a plan for how many minutes to give Jermaine O’Neal in his first game back from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, they didn’t brief O’Neal.

At the outset of the Celtics’ win over the Spurs Thursday night, O’Neal asked Lacerte what the plan was, because honestly, he had no clue.

Lacerte told him, “You’re looking at 15-20 minutes your first game.’’

“That was kind of new news,’’ O’Neal said. “I didn’t know.’’

O’Neal played 11 minutes, giving the Celtics size and defense. But with Nenad Krstic injuring his right knee, whatever plans the Celtics had for easing O’Neal back into the lineup are officially scrapped.

O’Neal logged 16 uneventful minutes in last night’s 88-83 loss to the Hawks, missing his only field goal attempt, scoring just 1 point, and grabbing a single rebound.

Krstic remained with the team yesterday after sustaining the injury in the second quarter against the Spurs and will have an MRI today.

“They don’t want to guess,’’ Rivers said. “We’re just going to wait.’’

Sasha Pavlovic, Krstic’s best friend on the team, said Krstic showed concern when he talked about the injury.

“He’s worried but hopefully it’s nothing,’’ Pavlovic said. “From his experience, he said it doesn’t look that bad. He’ll know more in the morning. Hopefully it’s nothing. We need him on this team.’’

O’Neal expects his minutes to increase with Krstic’s absence, but said there was no way to work himself back slowly with just seven games left in the regular season.

“Now I’m looking at having to play a little bit more minutes, that’s probably the difference right now,’’ O’Neal said. “But at some point I’m going to need more minutes. So in these seven games that we have left I welcome the challenge. At some point I’m going to have to play an extended period to really test everything, but I feel comfortable with whatever Doc has for me.

Another missing big man, Shaquille O’Neal, could return tomorrow against the Pistons or Tuesday against the 76ers.

“There’s no easing anyone in now,’’ Rivers said. “The bottom line is, if you can play now and we can’t practice, we’re going to play you. Right now we have no choice. When Shaq comes back, he’s going to play. I don’t care if he hasn’t practiced, we’re just going to play him. That’s what we did with J.O., we don’t have a choice. It’s not like we have a bunch of time to get guys ready.’’

Taking aim Every so often, Celtics president Danny Ainge will walk up to Rajon Rondo and say, “Let me talk to you for a second.’’

He hadn’t done it in a while, but a few days ago, Ainge pulled Rondo aside and dropped a stat in his ear. He told Rondo that on shots between 6 and 23 feet, Rondo shoots 41 percent, a clip better than some of his peers at point guard.

Rondo took a season-high 20 shots Thursday night, making 11. He was 5 of 8 on attempts of 10 feet or longer. Last night, he finished 6 of 15 from the floor.

“He mentioned some other names of guys that shot a lower percentage from 6 to 23. So I’m fine with taking the shot,’’ Rondo said. “I guess it’s just emphasized that guys lay off of me and I don’t shoot them as much because I look to pass first.’’

Rivers was happy to see Rondo shoot himself out of his slump, considering it a mental process that all players go through.

“I thought when he was struggling it was great for him,’’ Rivers said. “I thought it was another phase that you go through as a player. The physical phase and the mental phase and it was just another one that he had to fight through. It’s good.’’

Cowens chimes in Celtics legend Dave Cowens filled in for Tom Heinsohn on last night’s Comcast Sportsnet telecast.

The trade that sent Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Krstic and Jeff Green has received mixed reviews and produced mixed results, but Cowens said the deal allowed the Celtics to stay in the hunt.

“I’m sure other teams have had to go through changes where key guys have had to go out, but the way I see it, they only lost one key guy,’’ Cowens said. “And he basically forced Danny’s hand based on contract talks and all the other different things.

“Everybody else, there were a couple of young guys, but the other two guys were hurt and they got able bodies back. You got guys that are playing so I think it was a masterful trade, personally. It kept them in the hunt. It could have deep-sixed them, but it kept them in the hunt.’’

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

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