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WALTHAM, Mass -- Lazarus himself never dreamed of this: Marquis Daniels, back from the hospital bed, back in basketball, back in Boston.
Or this: Marquis Daniels, risen from the basketball graveyard, from the stretcher where he lay following a collision with Gilbert Arenas in a February 2011 game against the Orlando Magic, risen from an Atlanta surgical ward, where earlier this year Daniels underwent extensive spinal surgery from which he has fully and remarkably recovered.
|Marquis Daniels not only is back and healthy, he may start for the Celtics on Christmas Day.|
And yet here is Marquis Daniels, not only upright but svelte and strong, not only back but rust-free, impressing coaches and teammates alike, not only here to help the Boston Celtics' bench but, with captain Paul Pierce sidelined with a bruised right heel, ready to potentially suit up and start on Christmas Day in New York.
"When it happened," Daniels said of his injury, "doctors told me, 'We can't let you play no more.' And I was like, 'As long as I can walk, I'm all right.' But 10 months later, everything is good."
He's a long way from the wheelchair now, and Daniels has shone in both practice and games throughout the Celtics' preseason. In last Friday's intrasquad scrimmage at TD Garden, Daniels dropped in 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with five rebounds and six assists. On Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, Daniels played a team-high 27 minutes, again scoring 11 points (5-for-7 FG) with three assists and two rebounds.
Given the circumstances, Daniels' level of play has turned heads, including that of coach Doc Rivers.
"I like when guys separate themselves," Rivers said Tuesday. "And that's what I tell them all the time. Right now Marquis is clearly separating himself and that's what you have to do. You have to make it so it's no thought -- 'You're in Marquis.' I don't look down there and say, 'Uh, which one [should I put in]?'"
It's a question that Daniels, after a long summer and a standout camp, has striven to answer.
"I worked hard this summer to try to make sure I was ready, if I was going to come back or whatever the case may be," Daniels said. "So I just wanted to be prepared for whatever the situation might be."
The situation, given Pierce's heel injury, very well could include Rivers calling on Daniels to start in the Celtics' first regular-season game. It would be a monumental achievement for the once-fallen player, a triumph of heart and resolve, though Rivers remains noncommittal.
"We don't know yet," Rivers said of whether Daniels would start against the Knicks on Christmas Day. "Even if he deserves to start, if Paul doesn't play, we don't know if we'd start Marquis. We really like the second unit together. I don't know what we would do there, but we might think about putting someone else there."
Rivers admitted he is worried about how Pierce's injury could affect the team over the next week or so, though he doesn't foresee any long-term implications.
"I'm concerned short-term," Rivers said. "We have [three] games right off the bat and he's really gone only one practice and that's basically it. So, yeah, I'm concerned about it. It's just a heel bruise and he went real hard [Monday] and it got real sore. We just want him to rest. The problem with that is, it'll be a lot of rest, and then he may be ready, but with no play, there's that."
Whether or not Daniels starts Sunday, Rivers said he's been impressed with the swingman's effort thus far in camp.
|Marquis Daniels is tended to by trainer Ed Lacerte after suffering a spinal cord injury in February that required extensive surgery.|
"He's just surprised me that he's walking and playing," Rivers said. "Anything he does has exceeded my expectations, honestly. He's playing well though. And that's good."
Celtics point guard Keyon Dooling echoed his coach.
"I didn't doubt it for a second," Dooling said of Daniels' comeback. "I'm a man of faith, I'm a man of prayer, and I think that when it's everybody's turn to stop playing, it'll be. So right now, Marquis is doing great, he's made a full recovery, he looks marvelous.
"He's somebody I've known since I was a teenager. We grew up in Florida, playing against each other down there. As a matter of fact, he beat us in the state final four -- don't tell anybody. So I'm just happy to see him. He's better because of it. Emotionally he's better, mentally he's better, and physically he looks great."
Pierce's injury aside, Daniels could contribute in a variety of roles. A career 46.2 percent shooter, Daniels can spell veteran guard Ray Allen at shooting guard, and he can also help out behind -- or perhaps in lieu of -- Pierce at small forward. It's the kind of versatility that helps put a concerned coach's mind at ease.
For his part, Daniels said he is comfortable with a backup role and simply hopes the regular starting five -- including Pierce -- can be out there on the Madison Square Garden floor.
"I'm sure Paul will be ready," Daniels said. "Sasha [Pavlovic] is going to be ready also. You've just got to stay ready. No matter whose name is called that night, we've all got to be ready to go. But we want to have the full roster coming in on the first night."
Tom Lakin is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.