By A.Sherrod Blakely
PORTLAND, Ore. It's only been two games since Kendrick Perkins returned to the Boston Celtics, and he's already causing problems for Doc Rivers.
For the first few games, Rivers has every intention of limiting Perkins' minutes.
But there's just one problem -- the 6-foot-11 center is playing so well that keeping him off the floor is becoming tougher and tougher.
Perkins played just over 20 minutes on Thursday, but was an integral part of Boston's 88-78 slugfest of a win over Portland.
Just six months removed from surgery to repair a torn MCL and PCL suffered in Game Six of the NBA Finals, Perkins had a near double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds.
"You forget about him out there," Rivers admitted. "I actually turned to Eddie Lacerte, the team's trainer and said, 'Hey, you gotta tell me.' "
While the C's medical staff is concerned with the stability of Perkins' right knee, Rivers is focused more on his conditioning.
"I felt good out there," Perkins said. "Just keep building. I probably could have played a little bit more, but listening to Doc, I know he's going to look out for me."
As well as Perkins played, Rivers is admittedly concerned about not pushing Perkins too hard, too soon.
"He was playing so well in the first half, I left him out there," said Rivers, who has said he would like to keep Perkins in the 16-18 minute range. "Once you go past that number, wind-wise and lung-wise, it's tough even after rest, to come back and play. I have to do a better job of monitoring his minutes."
Achieving that should be easier on Friday night against Phoenix.
The Celtics are banking on Shaquille O'Neal (right hip) to be back in the lineup, probably as a starter.
O'Neal has missed the C's last three games.
Prior to Thursday's win, both O'Neal and Rivers said the plan was for him to play against the Suns.
"I'm good; I've been good," O'Neal said. "Doc told me to take it easy. I've been doing other things; hot tub, hip strengthening exercises. I should be back by Phoenix."
As for Perkins, he's looking forward to playing in his first back-to-back set of games this season.
"Hopefully my body won't be aching," Perkins said. "I'm just looking forward to playing again. It seems like I been on vacation for six months. I have to earn my check a little bit."
The C's were in the midst of one of their worst nights in terms of turnovers, which led to a number of empty possessions.
But it was the solid defense and timely shots around the basket by Perkins, that helped the C's maintain a slim lead going into the fourth quarter.
"The thing when you have Perk back, when you lose Shaq who is a physical presence, you gain that in Perk," said Kevin Garnett. "He has great hands. He can finish around the basket. Defensively, he doesn't need a lot of help. He's a talker. We have that chemistry and rapport with him. To have him back to be a force . . . it's good to have Perk back."
Even if he is making it difficult for Rivers to keep him on the bench, which will probably change soon.
Rivers said he isn't sure when Perkins will return to the starting lineup, but he reiterated on Thursday that it was going to happen.
"He's going to re-enter it. It's just a matter of when," Rivers said. "Perk's a starter, and he'll be a starter at some point. I like our starting lineup with him in it. I like our bench with Baby and Shaq. I think that's terrific."