Shaq may not return until playoffs

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Shaq may not return until playoffs

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

SAN ANTONIO The Boston Celtics are starting to get worried that Shaquille O'Neal's sabbatical from the game to deal with an assortment of right footlegAchilles tendon continues to take longer than expected.

While the goal is to have him suit up before the playoffs, Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledged on Thursday that the team has no definitive idea as to when the 7-foot-1 center will be back.

"I really hope we can get him before the playoffs," said Rivers, who added that the injury is starting to "get close to bleeding" into the team's postseason plans.

While the C's maintain there hasn't been any setback -- in fact, Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told WEEI soon after Rivers spoke that O'Neal would be back Sunday or Tuesday of next week -- they do say it has taken longer to heal than anticipated. (Isn't that a setback?)

There will certainly be an adjustment period when he does return, whenever that may be.

Still, there are certain positives that O'Neal brings to the floor that trump whatever adjustments he needs to make in terms of Xs and Os.

"The good thing with him is that he's still big and strong," Rivers said. "But not playing until the playoffs would be difficult."

And because of O'Neal's role with the team, the C's aren't banking on him to be a dominate presence for extended periods of time.

"The thing is, it's not like he's a focal point offensively," Rivers said. "Defensively, he does what he does. His size is a factor. But you still have to know all the sets offensively and defensively for the other guys to run stuff."

His size. His strength.

Rivers has a good handle on those things.

But it is the unknown - when will O'Neal return - that he admits presents yet another hurdle for the Celtics moving forward.

"I just don't know because I've never had this situation," Rivers said. "It's getting to become a challenge. It wasn't before, because I just viewed it as a regular-season injury. Now it's starting to get close to bleeding into playoffs. Now that becomes a challenge."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

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.