By A.Sherrod Blakely
INDIANAPOLIS There's little doubt that Jermaine O'Neal, if he could do it over, would have had surgery on his left knee sooner.
But that decision, much like most decisions he's made in his basketball career, comes with no regret.
All O'Neal can do now that he's fully recovered, is finish what he started.
"You make your decisions and you stand with them," he said. "You don't want to lose time, but that's what we're fighting with. It's hard to regret stuff. You go with it. You wish things would have gone differently. But in a perfect world, should I have done it earlier? Absolutely. But since we're not in a perfect world, we make human decisions."
And while his decision to try and rehab the knee failed and kept him off the floor for the bulk of this season, O'Neal understands his contributions to this team, even if he were healthy all year, wouldn't mean a lot if he didn't step his game up in the playoffs.
But first things first.
O'Neal has to get some practice time in - that will come on Wednesday - and from there, he'll return to the floor.
He's targeting Thursday night's game at San Antonio for his return, but coach Doc Rivers isn't nearly as optimistic.
"I doubt it," Rivers said when asked about O'Neal coming back that quickly. "There's a chance. That's just so quick. Honestly, the only way is if we had some type of other injury or something. Even then, I doubt I'd do it."
Regardless of when he returns, O'Neal has prepared himself as best he could.
Working out in Chicago with famed trainer Tim Grover, O'Neal said he has spent weeks working out six days a week.
The result is he's in better shape now than he was when he reported to the Celtics this summer, adding that he has also dropped 12 pounds to take even more pressure off his surgically repaired left knee.
"Whatever it's going to be, I'm physically prepared for," O'Neal said. "And if it doesn't pan out the way I want it to be, I can say I know I've given it my all."