WALTHAM Avery Bradley can't walk on air or turn water into wine. So you can save all the talk of him being some sort of basketball savior for the Celtics.
Still, there is no mistaking that his return to the lineup on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies (19-9) will make the C's a better -- a much better -- team than they are without him.
And his return could not come soon enough with the Celtics riding a season-long losing skid of three games in preparation for a Grizzlies team that is still among the better teams out West despite losing three of their last four games.
If he's healthy enough to play, C's coach Doc Rivers said Bradley will be with the first group.
"Avery's going to start," Rivers said prior to the C's practice on Wednesday afternoon. "We had him markered down -- not penciled down -- before the year that he was going to be a starter."
In terms of what his role will be, Bradley isn't consumed with starting versus coming off the bench.
"I try not to worry about it," he said. "All you can do is go out and play hard. That's what I'm gonna do. That's how I play. Tomorrow that's what you guys will see."
However, injuries to both shoulders last season resulted in surgery that forced him to miss part of the 2012 playoffs as well as the first 30 games this season.
It was a disappointing finish to what was a breakout season for the former first-round pick of the C's who burst on to the scene as a defensive pest to opponents that was critical in the Celtics becoming a much better team after the all-star break.
According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics had an efficiency differential of plus 5.5 prior to the all-star break last season which ranked 10th in the NBA. After the break, the C's more than doubled that to a plus 11.5 which ranked fourth in the NBA.
Part of that bump was Bradley's ability to not only impact the game with his individual defense, but having it trickle down to his teammates.
"He knows his role," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "He plays with a lot of energy. A lot of guys don't like to face a guy like Avery. I believe he's the best defender in the league, hands down.
Rondo added, "Hopefully we all try to step our level of play up when he steps on the court; the intensity he plays with, hopefully is contagious and we all do the same."
The impact that Bradley will make on the C's remains to be seen, although it is expected to be significant.
But Celtics coach Doc Rivers, well aware that the pressure isn't coming from Bradley's teammates or the C's, has made a point repeatedly to emphasize that Bradley should not be seen as some Knight on a white horse coming in to save the day.
"I'm anxious to get him back, but I know that he's not Bill Russell. He's Avery Bradley," Rivers said. "But Avery Bradley is going to be important to our team. He is one of those guys that helps change your culture as far as on the floor and how we play and the intensity that he plays. I hope when he comes it helps one or two other guys do that. Other than that, he's been out a long time. To think he's going to play well right off the bat, I don't know if that will happen or not. But he'll play hard right away."
And that in itself might be just what the C's need; a player who plays with great effort and intensity consistently.
"I don't have any expectations of how I'm going to play," Bradley said. "I'm just going to go out there and play hard. Whatever happens, happens. That's all I can control, how hard I can play."
But that effort in many ways is what fuels Bradley's defense which is his strength as a player.
"Defense, I feel it's an effort thing," Bradley said. "If you want to play hard on the defensive end, you have to want to. I obviously want to and that's what I can bring to this team."
Indeed, Bradley's on-the-ball defense has a way of containing or wiping out at least one member of an opposing team's backcourt.
"Unfortunately there are four others on the floor," Rivers said. "Avery's probably top-5 in the league on the ball defense and not getting beat. But if you can stop one of the guards from dribble penetration, it has to help."
And the Celtics (14-16) can use all the help they can get right now.