By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The schedule says that the Orlando Magic are up next on the Boston Celtics' docket.
That means Dwight Howard, the most dominant big man in the game, will be on the floor for Monday night's tilt between these two Eastern Conference powers.
Insert yawn from Shaquille O'Neal right about here.
He was asked following Friday's 99-94 win over Charlotte about what it would be like facing Dwight Howard.
"Nothing," said O'Neal, who had 23 points and a season-high five blocks against the Bobcats.
You would think that the Magic were starting Dwight Yoakam at center and not Dwight Howard, based on O'Neal's laissez-faire attitude towards the matchup between the league's top centers of the not-that-long-ago past (O'Neal) and present (Howard).
"The only thing that motivates me is 1825," said O'Neal, who was referring to the Celtics' quest for an 18th NBA title, the core group of Celtics from 2008 trying to win their second NBA title and himself searching for NBA title No. 5. "I'm done with individual matchups. Too old for that."
At 38 years old, looking for him to dominate Howard isn't going to happen.
Will he hold his own?
But what's overlooked during this stage in which O'Neal's game is on the decline, is how his presence can impact those around him.
To focus on what he does statistically doesn't do justice to what having Shaq has meant to this veteran team.
When you look at Paul Pierce and Ray Allen enjoying career seasons shooting the ball, something you rarely see from true scorers nearing the end of their career, Shaq in the starting lineup has been a big part of that success.
"Teams have to account for him, usually with two people either double-teaming or tilting," Allen told CSNNE.com. "That creates more space for guys like Me and Paul to do what we do. In a lot of ways, he really has made the game a lot simpler in terms of getting good looks."
Allen is on track to become the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made prior to the all-star break next month. He's also shooting a career-best 47.3 percent from 3-point range. Pierce, the reigning 3-point shooting champion, has connected on 41.2 percent of his 3s while shooting a career-high 51.1 percent from the field.
Point guard Rajon Rondo is averaging a career-high 13.4 points per game while shooting 52.1 percent from the field, which is also a career-best.
O'Neal being less than enthused about his matchup with Howard may in part be fueled by what happened the last time these two teams played on Christmas in which the Magic prevailed, 86-78.
Scoring was a challenge for both teams that night, especially for Boston which played most of the game with O'Neal on the bench in foul trouble.
He finished with a season-low 13 minutes of action, while Howard, also hampered to some degree by foul trouble, played 33 minutes which is below his season average.
Not only did the Celtics lose, but O'Neal had to fork over 35,000 to the league for his comments about the way the game was officiated.
"I guess they came out to see number 26 today," said O'Neal, who was referring to official Bob Delaney. "He (No. 26) was a great player out there today."
Still, their presence will be a matchup most fans will be looking forward to seeing.
"If both of them could stay out of foul trouble," said Rajon Rondo. "It's a big, I would say, round 2. I know he's (O'Neal) is up for the challenge. I don't know if he's psyched, but he's a competitive guy. He's not going to back down."