Shaq travels with Celtics; no timetable on return

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Shaq travels with Celtics; no timetable on return

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON Shaquille O'Neal is back.

Sort of.

The 7-foot-1 center, who has missed the last 18 games with an assortment of right leg injuries, is traveling with the Celtics as they kick off a three-game road trip that begins here on Friday.

Despite being with the team, O'Neal is not expected to play against the Rockets.

Prior to Boston's 92-80 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers talked about O'Neal and the likelihood of him returning to the floor soon.

"Shaq shot on Wednesday and felt pretty good," Rivers said. "I don't know what the time frame is for his return. The fact that he's on the floor means sooner than later, I hope."

The past couple of weeks, O'Neal has hinted that he'll return at some point this month.

"When they say 'go,' I'll go," O'Neal told CSNNE.com. "I'm ready to go when they tell me."

Rivers said he wants to see O'Neal make it through a practice and return afterward with no significant pain before he'll be comfortable putting the 38-year-old center on the floor again.

The Celtics did not practice on Thursday.

And with Friday's game at Houston followed by a Saturday night matchup at New Orleans, the Celtics won't practice on Sunday.

However, the C's have held modified practice sessions with the slew of new faces, and O'Neal may participate in those sessions not only to help with his conditioning, but also to show Rivers that he is in fact ready to start playing again.

The Celtics have been overly cautious in bringing O'Neal back too soon for a variety of reasons.

At the top of that list is a fear that a premature return will lead to another injury, which is a risk the C's aren't willing to take, especially with the playoffs only a month away.

And by trading away Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics understand that their margin for error is slim in terms of having effective big men.

Whenever O'Neal does return he is expected to resume his job as the team's starting center, which should do wonders for that first group.

Prior to his injuries, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were enjoying one of their finest seasons ever shooting the ball.

Both credited their starts with the attention that O'Neal receives when he's on the floor.

"He's so big, and has been so dominant for so many years, you can't ignore him," Pierce told CSNNE.com. "And me and Ray, we don't really need a whole lot of space to get our shots off. Having him gives us even more space, so all we're really doing on a lot of nights, is knocking down open shots."

The man setting up a number of those open shots, Rajon Rondo, could also benefit from O'Neal's return.

Rondo, the league's assists leader, was racking up unprecedented numbers with the Big Shamrock in the middle.

While the Celtics have managed to be successful without him, there's no doubt that the C's are a much tougher team to match up with defensively with O'Neal on the floor.

"When Shaquille gets back, that's going to bolster our second unit also," Pierce said. "If he's in the starting lineup that pushes Nenad Krstic there, or vice versa, they are only going to get better."

Krstic, who came to Boston by way of the Feb. 24 trade with Oklahoma City, has been a surprisingly effective player for the Celtics.

While the centerpiece of the trade with the Thunder, Jeff Green, has been solid, Krstic has been the one in the Celtics starting lineup producing in a way that no one -- including Rivers -- anticipated.

"The way we play, if the guy is open they're going to throw it to him," Rivers said. "If it's a shot, he should try and score. If not, he should move and set a pick. He's getting wide open touches and he's taking advantage of it, and he's doing his job."

In 10 games -- all starts -- Krstic is averaging 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Maybe just as important, the C's are 7-3 with Krstic as the starting center.

"Nenad is a consummate professional," his agent, Marc Cornstein, told CSNNE.com. "He studies hard. He recognized that this was a new opportunity for him. He relishes the chance to win a title and be a contributing factor in that."

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

All-Stars, studs and duds: Westbrook's reign as MVP comes to an end

All-Stars, studs and duds: Westbrook's reign as MVP comes to an end

NEW ORLEANS – You don’t rack up triple doubles at a historically ridiculous rate the way Russell Westbrook does without being able to dish out an assist from time to time.

The biggest assist he made in the 66th annual NBA all-star didn’t make its way on to the stats sheet.

But it was historical in so many ways.

Westbrook’s advice to Anthony Davis on how to win the game’s MVP award was indeed taken to heart with Davis winning the award following the Western Conference’s 192-182 win over the East All-Stars.

Davis finished with a game-high 52 points, shattering the previous mark set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962.

Davis won the MVP award after Westbrook had won it each of the two previous All-Star games.

Prior to the game, Davis said he did do a little lobbying among his fellow all-stars in the locker room.

“I stressed that, I think more than enough, to the guys in the locker room before the game that I wanted to get the MVP for this crowd, for this city, and I ended up doing it.”

Following the game, Westbrook acknowledged that he did speak with Davis about how to win the MVP award.

When asked about what he said, Westbrook replied, “I’m not going to tell you, but he did a good job and got it done.”

Despite not winning the MVP award, Westbrook had a dominant game of his own as he tallied 41 points which was one point shy of the previous record.

But after the game, it was clear that he was more pleased with the performance of Davis.

“It was great,” Westbrook said. “It’s definitely always a great thing to do, especially here where he plays in front of his fans, his family. It’s a great experience and definitely happy for him.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the 66th annual NBA all-star game.

 

STARS

Anthony Davis

The hometown team’s best player delivered a scoring night for the ages, finishing with an All-Star record 52 points on 26-for-39 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. The previous record of 42 points was set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962.

Russell Westbrook

His All-Star reign as the game’s MVP came to an end after having won the award the previous two All-Star games. He finished with 41 points.

 

STUDS

Giannis Antetokounmpo

He was an above-the-rim monster, scoring 30 points primarily on a dozen dunks.

Kevin Durant

He was filling up the stat sheet in several categories for the West, finishing with a triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Kyrie Irving

Arguably the best performer for the East, Irving had 22 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.

Isaiah Thomas

There were others who had a more prolific night shooting the ball, but Thomas’ impact off the bench was indeed felt. He led all East reserves with 20 points.

James Harden

The bearded one had a triple-double as well, although not the kind he would prefer. Along with scoring 12 points, and dishing out 12 assists, Harden also racked up a game-high 10 turnovers.

 

DUDS

None

There were some guys who didn’t do much statistically, but with this being such an exhibition-like event, putting too much stock in any player’s performance is a waste of time. They are among the top 24 or so players in the NBA. No amount of missed shots or turnovers will change that fact.

Stevens: Coaching NBA All-Star game a special opportunity

Stevens: Coaching NBA All-Star game a special opportunity

A. Sherrod Blakely goes one-on-one with Brad Stevens after he coaches his first NBA All-Star Game.