Flight of fancy? Shaq may play in Miami
The Celtics will decide this morning whether Shaquille O’Neal is healthy enough to join the team for tomorrow’s matchup in Miami.
The team has a flight scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said if O’Neal is healthy enough to travel, he’ll play against the Heat in the battle for second seed in the East.
“We’ll talk in the morning. If we don’t think he has any chance, he’s not even going to go on the trip,’’ Rivers said. “Obviously, if he goes on the trip, then we’re telling you.”
O’Neal missed 26 straight games with an inflamed right Achilles’. He returned last Sunday for the Celtics’ home game against the Pistons, but played just six minutes before limping off the floor with a strained right calf.
He missed the next three games, although the Celtics hoped to have him on the floor leading up to the playoffs, which start next week.
The Celtics are 27-9 with O’Neal in the starting lineup. O’Neal started at center for the first two of Boston’s three wins over Miami this season, averaging 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 20 minutes.
If he does travel, Rivers said, O’Neal would get a chance to practice this morning before the team flies out.
“We have young guys in the morning,’’ Rivers said. “They meet every morning. So we’ll see.’’
Back in line Paul Pierce’s shooting touch escaped him last night (5 of 14), but he found a way to get into the scoring column, attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line 13 times.
In his previous three games, he had gone to the line a combined 11 times, taking just two attempts against the Bulls Thursday night.
“I try to make a conscious effort every night on getting to the rim, that’s part of my game, slashing to the basket, finishing, getting some easy ones. That’s why I’m able to shoot a high percentage,’’ he said. “But I was able to get there with a little more aggression, get into the bonus.
“Even though my shot didn’t fall, I was able to get to the line. Sometimes that’s the way scorers have to do it.’’
Late-night viewing Rivers was up until the wee hours watching tape of the Bulls game, and then showed it to the players yesterday.
“I thought it was a little tougher for us today to watch it because they were watching Chicago run our stuff harder than we run our stuff,’’ Rivers said. “Not only did [the Bulls] run our stuff, they call it our stuff. The exact same calls — and it looked a lot better coming from them.’’
The Celtics never matched the Bulls’ intensity. Rivers said he could tell from the morning shootaround that the night would be a long one.
“I think, at times, we think if we show up, that’s good enough,’’ Rivers said. “I think they’re finding out you do have to show up, and then you have to play as well.’’
Rest stop Jermaine O’Neal sat last night against the Wizards, getting a chance to rest after playing five straight games coming off arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
“He wanted to play, but I didn’t think he should play,’’ Rivers said. “We want to keep him healthy. He’s played a bunch of games.’’
The Celtics play at Miami tomorrow and at Washington Monday, then finish the season Wednesday against the Knicks, a season finale with playoff implications.
“He would like to play that entire week,’’ Rivers said. “And I thought this would be a good game for him to sit.’’
O’Neal has averaged 15 minutes a game since his return last Sunday against Detroit.
“The only thing I think I would do better or different with J.O., we’re sitting him too long,’’ Rivers said. “We’re only playing him five minutes or six minutes in a row, but do it five minutes play him, five minutes sit. I think that would be easier for him.’’
Young grows up fast Given an opportunity to take on a larger role with Gilbert Arenas gone, Nick Young came in averaging a career-high 17 points a night, which is 9 more than a year ago. Young is in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award, but that’s pretty much a runaway with Minnesota’s Kevin Love as the front-runner.
“It’s been great for me,’’ said Young, who sat out the 104-88 loss last night with a bruised left knee. “It started out with a little drama from Gil, but it worked out. I’m happy that things worked for me.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.