By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The playoffs begin this weekend for the Boston Celtics, and they're as close to being at full strength as we've seen all season.
The C's got a major scare on Monday when Delonte West re-aggravated a right ankle injury that sidelined him earlier this season.
Although he didn't play in Boston's 112-102 win over New York on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers is very confident he'll have the 6-foot-3 guard available for Boston's first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks, which begins at the TD Garden on Sunday.
"Delonte will be playing for sure, from everything I hear," Rivers said.
The news isn't nearly as rosy or optimistic on the return of Shaquille O'Neal, who is still nursing a strained right calf injury suffered on April 3 against Detroit.
When asked when he would like to see O'Neal back in the Celtics lineup, Rivers responded, "Shaquille, I'd like to see him yesterday. We'll just have to wait and see."
Rivers' position on O'Neal is one that's cautiously optimistic.
He has been down this road too many times this season, thinking that he would have the 7-foot-1 center available only to learn at the last minute that he would remain sidelined.
Because the Knicks' lack of depth in the middle, there's a pretty good chance that O'Neal wouldn't play much even if he were fully healthy.
His injury, coupled with Jermaine O'Neal playing better than expected since returning on March 31 after having left knee surgery in February, gives the Celtics the option of continuing to bring Shaq back in the fold slowly.
When he does return, Rivers will have an interesting dilemma on his hands.
Which O'Neal will he start?
Both have shown the ability to play well with the starting unit this season.
And what does Shaq's return mean to Nenad Krstic's playing time?
Like Shaq, Krstic has had some strong outings with the first group as well. But Jermaine O'Neal is a better defender and Shaq has the kind of size that not only draws defenses near, but also frees up his teammates for relatively open shots from the perimeter. However, Krstic has the best shooting range of the three centers, which allows the Celtics to better space the floor offensively.
There's no doubt that the potential for this be problematic is alive and well.
But if you're Rivers, this is the kind of problem -- especially heading into the playoffs -- you'd love to have.