Celtics

Shaq is Celts' only question mark for Sunday

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Shaq is Celts' only question mark for Sunday

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM There was a Shaquille O'Neal sighting at the Boston Celtics' practice facility on Thursday.

Whether we see him in Game One of the C's first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks, remains to be seen.

"If you ask Shaq, he'll tell you he's going to give it a go on Sunday," Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com. "But I honestly don't know. It's hard to put an expectation on whether he will go or not go at this point. We'll have to wait and see."

The next couple of days will go far in determining if O'Neal will return to the Celtics' lineup.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who addressed the media prior to Thursday's practice, said O'Neal would participate in the team's practice.

"We're not going to do nothing . . . we're going to walk through stuff," Rivers said. "I could do today's practice. But tomorrow and the following day are the two big days for Shaq. He's going to try and get through practices and see what he can do."

The impact of O'Neal on the Celtics is undeniable.

When you get past Boston's Big Four of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, no Celtic player had a better plusminus than O'Neal who is plus-5.2 points per game.

Although he's only averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, O'Neal is shooting an impressive 66.7 percent from the field.

The only issue with O'Neal is his health.

A series of injuries have limited him to a career-low 37 games played this season.

The injuries, plus the fact that the 39-year-old is the league's oldest player, makes his return one the Celtics are cautiously optimistic about heading into their first-round series.

Ainge told CSNNE.com that he does expect O'Neal to play at some point against the Knicks, but isn't ready to commit to him being ready to go Sunday.

"We've had injuries all season, but, yeah, we're about as healthy now as we've been all season," Ainge said. "The only real question mark we have health-wise right now, is Shaq."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

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Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

BOSTON – When Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about what he saw in the team’s newest (10-day) addition Jarell Eddie, his response was, “shooting … shooting.”

Indeed, shot-making has been the one area of play that has been problematic for the Celtics most of this season.

Boston comes into today’s game against Orlando (13-32) shooting just 44.8 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA.

In the month of January, Boston has been even worse, connecting on just 41.8 percent of their shots which ranks 29th in the league this month.

While the addition of Eddie had more to do with the recent flu bug that has made the rounds throughout the Celtics lineup and the uncertainty a couple days ago surrounding Kyrie Irving’s sore left shoulder (it has improved and he’s expected to play today), adding Eddie speaks to a greater problem – guys making shots – that has to be addressed in some capacity sooner or later.

Boston always has the option to pursue a trade. They also have an $8.4 million disabled player exception they can use on free agent players, with the most likely pool of talent that they will choose from consisting of players who would have been bought out by their current teams.

Or there’s raiding the G-League for talent, which is what they did in signing Eddie to a 10-day contract.

Regardless, there’s a growing sense that this team has to add more scoring punch to the mix or at a minimum, improve the overall offensive execution of the roster as it stands now.

“We have to do our stuff better,” Stevens said. “The start of the season it was predictable, losing Gordon (Hayward who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season-opener) and having to adjust. The middle portion of games we were pretty darn good. And then I thought we were reasonable in London, reasonable against New Orleans. But the other three of the last five games, we weren’t very good.”

Boston’s offense should get a boost from Irving’s return to the lineup after missing Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia with a sore left shoulder.

And while it was just one game, Irving understands the challenge that lies ahead in getting Boston’s offense to play better and more consistently.

“We have very unique talents on this team,” Irving said. “When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

Marcus Morris has been one of the players who has been in and out of the Celtics lineup because of a sore left knee.

However, the schedule has eased up to where he’ll be able to play more games, for longer stretches.

He comes into today’s game having scored in double figures each of the last three games.

“I’m just trying to get healthy. I know what I can do,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “My confidence is always going to stay high, no matter if I miss or make shots.”

In the last three games, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.

While Morris’ play of late is promising, it doesn’t diminish the concern Boston should have for an offense that for the most part, has been sputtering this season.

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Kyrie practices, expected to be back Sunday

Kyrie practices, expected to be back Sunday

WALTHAM, Mass. – Kyrie Irving was able to participate in all of Celtics practice on Saturday and is expected to be back on the floor when the C's host the Orlando Magic on Sunday.

Irving did not play in an 89-80 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday because of soreness in his left shoulder.

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He will continue to receive treatments for the shoulder, “but I’m just ready to go back out there and play,” Irving said. “I’ve had a few days to reset and do the things needed to put myself in a great position to go out there and play.”

Irving said earlier that the shoulder had been bothering him for a couple weeks and an overtime loss to New Orleans on Tuesday didn’t help matters.

Still just 25 but recently named to his fifth All-Star team, Irving’s return could not come at a better time for the Celtics.

Boston (34-12) has the best record in the Eastern Conference, but the C's are riding a two-game losing streak, which is only the third time this season they've lost back-to-back games.

Arguably Boston’s biggest issue in the loss to the Sixers was an offense that struggled in several phases.

Not having Irving available certainly made matters worse, but there were a number of elements of play that with Irving or not, coach Brad Stevens recognizes his team must make a significant improvement in if they are to remain among the top teams in the NBA.

Stevens talked extensively after the loss and again on Saturday about the team not playing hard enough on offense.

“I don’t want to take away from the teams we’re playing against. They’re really guarding us hard,” Stevens said. “But we’ve got to execute harder. The one thing that’s pretty obvious in person and when you watch on film, is we just didn’t play hard enough on offense which is kind of unique. That’s the way I felt.”

Irving said there needs to be an increase in emphasis on their offense, which would make the game easier for everyone.

“Our spacing, our cutting … just playing the game kind of within the game, understanding our talents and where we can make the game easier,” Irving said. “We have very unique talents on this team. When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

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