SAN ANTONIO -- Just in case you were worried about some freak afternoon setback, Jermaine O'Neal is still scheduled to make his return to game action Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. So, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, what can we expect from a player that's been sidelined since Jan. 12?
"I have no idea," said Rivers. "I'm going to throw him out there and he may look like he can play one minute, or 10 minutes, I’m just going to let him tell us with the way he’s moving around and playing. He’s going to be fighting a number of things: No. 1, he hasn’t played in three months or whatever; No. 2, remembering anything we do when you’re going full speed; The third one, and most [importantly], just conditioning. That's a lot to fight. And then the fourth thing: Playing against the Spurs. All those are pretty tough ones.
"But we need him back and we need the minutes. We have to use his games for him, and when [Shaquille O'Neal] comes back, we have to use both of them, use [the remaining games as] practices for them. The other four guys will be playing in the game, but [the O'Neals] just have to play."
Speaking of Shaq, Rivers confirmed the potential for the 39-year-old center to return to the court as early as Sunday (but more likely Tuesday if the team elects to squeeze Shaq into a practice Monday). Asked if he worried about setting another time line, given all the ones that have passed already, Rivers kept it light.
"The other way hasn't worked, so yeah, he's playing Tuesday," joked Rivers. "I mean, what the hell? I tried the other way and that doesn't work. So let's jinx him. Hell, we need him back."
Shaq has been sidelined since Feb. 1 with right foot injuries.
In other injury news, Von Wafer (right calf sprain) is back in the active lineup this evening. Rivers said he'd dress, but wasn't sure he'd play him, suggesting he'll lean on Sasha Pavlovic as the third wing behind Paul Pierce and Jeff Green.
With Wafer, the Celtics enjoyed the rare luxury of not only dressing 12 healthy bodies, but actually having to scratch one (rookie Avery Bradley). Rivers isn't a fan of the NBA's inactive policy, but admitted it's nice to be able to have 13 healthy bodies to lean on.
As for the Spurs, as coach Doc Rivers keenly predicted this morning, all of their key players are available, including stars Tim Duncan (sprained left ankle), Manu Ginobili (left quadriceps contusion), Tony Parker (left patella contusion), and Antonio McDyess (lower back contusion), who all sat out Monday's loss to Portland.