Celtics

West will play Sunday; Shaq's status uncertain

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West will play Sunday; Shaq's status uncertain

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The playoffs begin this weekend for the Boston Celtics, and they're as close to being at full strength as we've seen all season.

The C's got a major scare on Monday when Delonte West re-aggravated a right ankle injury that sidelined him earlier this season.

Although he didn't play in Boston's 112-102 win over New York on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers is very confident he'll have the 6-foot-3 guard available for Boston's first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks, which begins at the TD Garden on Sunday.

"Delonte will be playing for sure, from everything I hear," Rivers said.

The news isn't nearly as rosy or optimistic on the return of Shaquille O'Neal, who is still nursing a strained right calf injury suffered on April 3 against Detroit.

When asked when he would like to see O'Neal back in the Celtics lineup, Rivers responded, "Shaquille, I'd like to see him yesterday. We'll just have to wait and see."

Rivers' position on O'Neal is one that's cautiously optimistic.

He has been down this road too many times this season, thinking that he would have the 7-foot-1 center available only to learn at the last minute that he would remain sidelined.

Because the Knicks' lack of depth in the middle, there's a pretty good chance that O'Neal wouldn't play much even if he were fully healthy.

His injury, coupled with Jermaine O'Neal playing better than expected since returning on March 31 after having left knee surgery in February, gives the Celtics the option of continuing to bring Shaq back in the fold slowly.

When he does return, Rivers will have an interesting dilemma on his hands.

Which O'Neal will he start?

Both have shown the ability to play well with the starting unit this season.

And what does Shaq's return mean to Nenad Krstic's playing time?

Like Shaq, Krstic has had some strong outings with the first group as well. But Jermaine O'Neal is a better defender and Shaq has the kind of size that not only draws defenses near, but also frees up his teammates for relatively open shots from the perimeter. However, Krstic has the best shooting range of the three centers, which allows the Celtics to better space the floor offensively.

There's no doubt that the potential for this be problematic is alive and well.

But if you're Rivers, this is the kind of problem -- especially heading into the playoffs -- you'd love to have.

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

All signs point to LeBron James playing against Celtics Tuesday

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All signs point to LeBron James playing against Celtics Tuesday

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- A sprained left ankle injury kept LeBron James out of all but one of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason games, and has created a certain element of uncertainty as to whether he’ll play against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. 
 
While it has yet to be determined for sure if he’ll play, all indications are that the 15-year veteran will be in the starting lineup as the Cavs kick off their quest to remain the team to beat in the East.

“I never hide stuff from you guys. I really don’t know,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said when asked if James would play against the Celtics. “Depending on how he feels, but I really don’t know.”
 
However, James looked pretty comfortable shooting the ball after practice with a trio of former Celtics in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green. 
 
And if you listen to the man who would likely start in James’ place -- J.R. Smith -- there’s nothing to worry about Cavs Nation. 
 
According to Smith, James will play. 
 
“We were talking about it, he’s never missed, since he was 8 years old and he started playing, he’s never missed a first game,” Smith said. “I’m preparing for him to play.”
 
Despite having played more than 41,000 minutes -- only 33 players in NBA history have done so -- James has been one of the game’s more durable players. Last season James he sat out only eight games, and that was the most he has missed in a single season.
 
 "He's gonna go [Tuesday]," Smith said. "He's gonna go, trust me [on] that. I don't care what he's gotta do, he's gonna play."
 

Celtics may spend a good part of the year playing 'Getting To Know You'

Celtics may spend a good part of the year playing 'Getting To Know You'

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- It’s hard to believe the Celtics are just hours away from their first regular-season game after having been together for less than a month. 
 
The quick turnaround isn't all that different than it is for the other 29 teams in the NBA.  But the Celtics, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season, are returning only four players -- and just one starter -- from last year.
 
Training camp was indeed a crash course called Getting to Know My Teammates 101.
 
But listening to the players, and coach Brad Stevens, it’s clear there will be lessons learned all season long.

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“We have a good feel about how things can look, in the preseason,” said Al Horford. “But it is the preseason. Now it all starts. And right away we face a tough test (in the Cavaliers). But yeah, we’ll start learning even more. We’ve already learned a good amount, but even more when Tuesday rolls around.” 
 
That's when the Celtics kick off the regular season at Cleveland, which will once again be the favorite to advance to the NBA Finals.
 
Not too far behind (right behind them, by most accounts) are the Celts, whose season ended in the Conference finals a year ago in a five-game loss to the Cavs.
 
And the Boston players collectively feel that, despite the short amount of time together, they’ve developed a good sense of chemistry and understanding of how to play effectively with one another. 
 
Having said that, they also understand that there’s still plenty of room to grow. 
 
“I don’t expect it to be perfect by any means at all,” said Gordon Hayward. “We’ll definitely have some ups and downs this season. Like I said, one thing is we’ll be able to compete every night. We’ll be able to play together. Those things should stay the same.”
 
In many respects, the Cavaliers are going through a similar challenge this season.  They've added Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder -- and, when he recovers from his hip injury, Isaiah Thomas -- to a core group that’s led by LeBron James. 
 
While the increase in talent is undeniable, it’ll take some time before they too develop the kind of on-the-court cohesiveness that comes with time. 
 
“It’s gonna take time,” Rose said. “It’s going to be a process for everybody to learn their roles, learn everybody’s tendencies, and not think while they’re out there.”
 
And while there’s a heightened level of uncertainty as to how things will play out with the Celtics this season, Stevens embraces the unknown. 
 
“I think we're going to be learning about ourselves through the middle of the season,” Stevens said. “I think you do that with every team, but I think that's especially the case now. But this is, I've said this before, like, the first week, the first 10 days, the first few weeks, we have such great and unique challenges that it's gonna be really good for this team regardless."
 
Stevens added: “Because, to have to go into Cleveland with that level of intensity, with that level of attention, distraction, etc., is great. It's great to experience that in game one. A tremendous learning experience for our group. So, we're preparing to play as well as we can. And we know that they're really, really good. But this is, I'm looking forward to it because I want to find out where we are.”

Hayward added, “It’s a fun first game to start the year. Regardless of what happens, we’ll have some improving to do and things to get better at.”
  
 

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