By A.Sherrod Blakely
SAN ANTONIO Unless there's an unexpected turn for the worse -- and when you're talking about the Boston Celtics, nothing related to injuries can be ruled out entirely -- Jermaine O'Neal will be back in the Celtics lineup Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs.
O'Neal, out since having left knee surgery in early February, returned to practice on Wednesday.
Coach Doc Rivers, who has had his share of injuries suffered in practice, didn't know what to expect.
"He had a good practice," Rivers said. "He missed shots and all that stuff, but overall, I thought he was terrific."
Rivers added that he thought O'Neal's quickness and activity after such a lengthy layoff were better than he anticipated.
"I was happy," Rivers said. "I was very happy with him."
Afterward, O'Neal was feeling pretty good, as well.
"It felt good; first day," O'Neal said. "It felt good, just to get some of the terminology back. For the most part, physically I feel strong."
Of course, O'Neal has to make it through the next 24 hours without no significant pain or soreness in order for the Celtics to feel comfortable with him playing against the Spurs.
That shouldn't be a problem, not with O'Neal spending the past few weeks working out in Chicago and not having any kind of significant soreness or swelling afterward.
There's no telling how many minutes O'Neal will play against San Antonio.
But the truth is, it really doesn't matter.
As much as they would like to have O'Neal playing solid at both ends of the floor, they need him as another big body even more.
He's not expecting to put up big numbers in his return.
More than anything, he's concerned with helping the C's get a victory.
"That's what this is all about," he told CSNNE.com. "Trying to help this team win games now, and in the playoffs. Nothing else -- my numbers or what have you -- means anything. It's all about finding ways to win games."
Also present at practice Wednesday was Von Wafer, who is recovering from a strained right calf.
Shaquille O'Neal and Troy Murphy were the only two players not in attendance.
Shaquille O'Neal's return date is tentatively scheduled for April 5 at home against Philadelphia, but, as it has in the past, could be pushed back.