After a month on the sidelines, Wilcox returns to practice

935433.jpg

After a month on the sidelines, Wilcox returns to practice

WALTHAM Chris Wilcox is back . . . sort of.

Sunday marks the first day Wilcox will be on the floor, expected to participate in practice.

While there's not expected to be a lot of contact, Wilcox and his injured right thumb will get enough work to see where he stands.

Although a Wilcox appearance in Monday night's game against Charlotte seems highly unlikely, the C's have not totally ruled him out for suiting up, either.

"I just have to get comfortable catching the ball, shooting the ball and different things like that," Wilcox said. "After that, I think things will be straight."

The 6-foot-10 big man has missed the last 12 games because of the injury, robbing the Celtics and Rajon Rondo of what has been one of Rondo's favorite targets for lob dunks.

Since Wilcox went down, Rondo has averaged 8.3 assists per game -- down from 12.5 prior to Wilcox getting hurt against Chicago on Dec. 18.

Even if he were to suit up for Monday's game against the Bobcats, Wilcox still isn't fully healed.

He is currently wearing a cast-like wrap surrounding the thumb area to help absorb some of the potential pain he might experience in a real game.

Even when the thumb injury fully heals, Wilcox will likely wear some type of protective covering.

His return to practice comes at a time when the Celtics seem to have found their stride, especially the play of their second unit.

Boston comes into Monday's game against Charlotte having won a season-high five straight, with the bench playing a pivotal role in that success.

"We're all kind of in the roles coach Doc Rivers envisioned for us to be in," guard Jason Terry told CSNNE.com. "Everybody is comfortable, have a better feel for what we need to do out there to be successful; we have an identity now."

It remains to be seen how Wilcox will fit in with this much-improved second unit of Boston, which trails Miami by just 5 12 games for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

As for Wilcox, it's unlikely that he will resume his role prior to the injury, which was to be the first big man off the bench in place of Kevin Garnett.

Boston has tried a couple of different approaches to filling the void left by Wilcox off the bench.

The C's have settled on having rookie Jared Sullinger enter the game for Garnett at about the 5:00 mark.

In this role, the C's bench has thrived while Sullinger has tallied a double-double in each of Boston's last two games.

Boston has also turned to Jason Collins who has seven starts this season.

"We need everybody on this roster to achieve what our main goal is," Terry said.

But if Wilcox is to find a way to get back in the rotation, it begins Sunday with practice.

"This is when you need practice time for guys who haven't been in the flow of things," said Garnett. "It's good to have him back. Today should be a very interesting and passionate day. It's good to have Chris back."

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights as the Boston Celtics are able to hold off the Miami Heat and get the win 112-108 at the TD Garden.

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

BOSTON -- Location, location, location.

The Boston Celtics are seemingly where they want to be following their 112-108 win Sunday night over Miami, a victory that put the Celtics (48-26, .649 winning percentage) in a virtual tie with defending NBA champ Cleveland (47-25, .652).

But position means very little without purposeful play, something the Celtics are gradually doing more of than not.

And because of that, they find themselves one strong finish to the season away from going into the playoffs with the top overall record in the East for the first time since 2008 -- the year they brought home Banner 17.

While few anticipate the Celtics will advance to the NBA Finals, they have at least positioned themselves to have a shot at making a good run during the postseason if they can secure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The last time the top overall top seed in the East failed to make it past the first round was in 2012 when the Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, a series that was marred by injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah that created a much smoother pathway for the upstart Sixers to move on to the second round where they were defeated by Boston in seven games.

And while the players have tried to downplay the significance of landing the top seed in the East, there’s no question it’s something that they know all too well is within their reach.

Cleveland has a much tougher schedule to close out the season, one that includes a Monday night matchup at San Antonio against a Spurs team that’s fighting for the top spot out West.

The Celtics players have talked often about wanting to be in the best position possible going into the playoffs.

Having the top seed?

Yup.

That’ll do it.

And while Celtics players were aware of where the team was in relation to Cleveland, being tied for the top spot with the Cavs isn’t something that Boston is getting too giddy about right now.

“We hear it, but that wasn’t our focus [against Miami],” said Marcus Smart. “Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the playoffs.”

Coach Brad Stevens said not a word was spoken in the locker room after Sunday’s win about the team now being in a virtual tie with the Cavs.

“I think -- I talked about this earlier --obviously the guys, because they get . . . most of them. to be honest, because they’re asked so much, some of them obviously have already said they watch it pretty closely,” Stevens said. “But I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, it’s about playing as well as we can . . . ' ”

That and location, location, location.