By A. Sherrod Blakely
MIAMI Shaquille O'Neal said recently that he would only need a couple of games to be ready to go for the playoffs.
Now, it looks like he doesn't have a choice.
CSNNE.com has learned that the 7-foot-1 center will not play in Sunday's game against Miami, or Monday's matchup against Washington. That means the only regular season action he may see at this point will be the regular season finale against the New York Knicks.
But if the Celtics lock up the No. 2 seed within the next couple games, chances become even more slim that O'Neal will suit up before the playoffs.
A team official confirmed that O'Neal did not travel with the team from Boston to Miami, and added that he's not expected to join them for either Sunday's game against the Heat or Monday's matchup at Washington.
Following Boston's 104-88 win over the Wizards Friday night, Celtics coach Doc Rivers hinted that there was a chance that O'Neal might at travel with the team for Sunday's game against the Heat.
The only time players who are injured travel is when they are close to returning to action.
"If we don't think he has any chance (of playing), he's not going to go on the trip," Rivers said. "I'm going to lean towards not, but I'm not sure."
Prior to Boston's win at San Antonio on March 31, Rivers said that O'Neal and his rash of injuries might "bleed" into the playoffs.
"I just don't know because I've never had this situation," Rivers said at the time. "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."
Hours later, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told WEEI that O'Neal would return to the floor within days.
O'Neal was back in the Celtics lineup on April 3 against Detroit, only to suffer a strained right calf injury in less than six minutes of playing time.
He was very effective during his time on the floor, scoring six points in addition to opening things up for teammates such as Delonte West to knock down open shots.
But the fact that he re-aggravated one of his many injuries this season, once again raises questions about whether the 39-year-old can withstand the rigors of playoff basketball long enough to make an impact for the Celtics.
Boston was hoping to bring him back for a few games to close out the season, and then shut him down until the playoffs.
With his recent injury coupled with how valuable he will be to their quest to bring home Banner 18, the Celtics may have no choice but to keep him sidelined until the playoffs.