Shaq's injury brings up big questions about Celtics

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:03 PM ET

Everyone knew that Shaquille O’Neal’s best days were behind him, the days of Shaq Daddy abusing opponents in the post and dominating on the glass are distant memories.

At the same time, everyone knew that O’Neal’s arrival in Beantown would only be judged in the post-season, regardless of the pedestrian numbers that would get posted during the regular season.

In spurts, O’Neal showed glimpses of his past, spinning in the lane and using a drop step to finish a sequence, hauling down boards and igniting fast breaks.

No matter how many games he was certain to miss, no matter how slow he would look in the tail end of a back to back, no matter the stretch in which he had no presence on the court, all would be righted when the playoffs begin, when the pace of play lends itself to a half-court game.

But all the potential that could be reaped and all the expectation that was generated must all be second-guessed as O’Neal nurses yet another injury.

It’s no longer an issue of whether he’ll return in any of Boston’s remaining games because the greater issue is just how much gas remains in the Big Diesel’s tank.

Kendrick Perkins’ trade to Oklahoma City brought in Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green, a move that had to made when Perkins turned down Boston’s extension.

At the time, the thinking was that Green, a small forward who can defend the perimeter, would be ideal as a key scoring threat coming off the bench a potential stopper on the wing with the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James looming in the playoffs.

Without Perkins, more would be asked of a big man rotation consisting of Krstic, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal.

Boston caught a break when it was discovered Krstic’s knee, which was hurt during last week’s win in San Antonio, was not as damaged as first feared, a setback diagnosed as minor.

“We have to have, I kept saying, one of the O’Neal brothers is important,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “And then Krstic is important. He has to be healthy. If we have that we do have size, but we have to have one of the (O’Neals).”

When you have guys such as Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, size does matter and there was plenty of size in Boston’s frontline, anchored by Kevin Garnett.

When teams control the paint and the boards, your chances of playoff success grow.

But when you suddenly become small, you become vulnerable and the Celtics are no longer as imposing as once believed.

Jermaine O’Neal seems to have regrouped since knee surgery, but no one can say what presence he’ll have in the playoffs.

And then Shaquille O’Neal hurts his calf in Sunday’s win over Detroit, raising more questions about Boston’s ability to keep its bigs healthy.

As he walked toward the C’s locker room, O’Neal was seen, in anger, knocking over items as he played his first game since Feb. 1.

The worst-case scenario was the dreaded Achilles’ tendon, but it turned out O’Neal suffered a right calf strain.

Down the road, it’s almost guaranteed that O’Neal will again be sidelined as the wear and tear continues to take a huge toll on the big fella.

In south Florida, the Heat must be salivating as a potential second-round meeting with Boston has been all but assured, home court being the only remaining issue.

Miami can’t win a seven-game series against Boston if the pace is slow, if the Celtics are healthy and can trot out big after big.

AROUND THE RIM

In terms of statement games, none was as big as Sunday’s win by Denver in L.A. against the Lakers, a team that entered the day having gone 17-1 since the all-star break.

“You hear about the Lakers and Dallas,” began Nuggets point guard Raymond Felton in citing some of the premier sides in the West. “But you’ve got to talk about the Nuggets, too.” The Nuggets are 15-4 since the Carmelo Anthony trade, their win over L.A. clinching Denver a post-season berth. “There’s no question that we’re excited about trying to figure out what we’re going to be,” head coach George Karl said of a Denver team that is deep and yet has no legitimate star ... The future home of the Nets has yet to be completed, but tickets can now be purchased at their new home in Brooklyn, where the 18,000 seat Barclays Center is scheduled to open next summer. Tickets range from $99 a game for a lower level seat to $1,500 for courtside viewing, pretty much in line with what the rival Knicks charge at MSG ... Ballots were distributed last week for the various league awards. The most acclaimed honour is MVP, a neck and neck race featuring Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard. “I don’t think it’s wide-open,” Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The media seems to have made their decision and they’re the ones who vote. So I think it’s over. I just listen and read: I think it’s over. Derrick Rose has it. I haven’t really read or heard a media guy who is going another way at this point. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t win it.”

HUMPHRIES READY TO CASH IN

Hump Day will one day arrive depending on the NBA’s labour situation that is all but certain of featuring some kind of work stoppage.

When the league’s ugly business gets done, Kris Humphries will have to take care of his personal business, which is saying he needs to figure out where he wants to play.

As you might expect, the ex-Raptors power forward is saying all the right things, maintaining his stand that he likes playing in New Jersey.

But that’s what players all say because there’s no point in burning a bridge.

If some team is willing to overspend, no doubt Humphries will take it and bolt New Jersey.

“You want to make the most money you can and have a great career and all those things,” he said. “I want to be here. They’ve helped me get a lot better and rolled with me this year. It would be great to be back here. We’re looking to do that.”

In terms of most improved players, Humphries is right up there, posting numbers that are well above his career averages.

During one stretch, Humphries recorded seven straight double doubles. He has had two 20-plus rebounding nights and enters Tuesday’s home tip against Minnesota averaging more rebounds (10.4) than points (10).

PLAYOFFS RETURN TO MSG

The self-anointed world’s most famous arena will finally witness playoff basketball.

And there is certain to be a buzz in the air, with or without the remnants of some circus act, when the Knicks play their first home playoff game since 2004.

Madison Square Garden threatens to be a mad house if the Knicks draw either Miami or Boston, the two likely opponents for New York as the regular season draws to its end.

The last time New York was in the playoffs it got swept by New Jersey.

A similar fate may await against a different foe this spring, but there will be no shortage of drama.

“I think everybody should be excited that Knicks basketball is back, that the standards are higher now and every year this is something we should be looking forward to, which is making the playoffs,” said Carmelo Anthony, who has never failed to appear in the post-season.

With Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, a former NBA final MVP, there’s always hope, even though the Knicks have gone 11-11 since their acquisition of Melo and Big Shot from Denver.

“That was the goal we set at the start of the season,” Stoudemire said of making the playoffs. “It’s mission accomplished and now on to the next one.”

KING WHO?

The sting of losing home-state hero LeBron James to Miami will always linger, the pain reinforced each time the King and his Heat visit Cleveland.

But on one glorious night, the Cavs got to celebrate, beating LeBron and providing some much-needed reward for their restless fan base.

After posting back-to-back 60-win seasons with James, the Cavs have already lost 61 games with a few more all but certain to be added without James.

Even with James recording a triple double, the Cavs manage to topple Miami.

“The attitude before the game was we had nothing to lose,” Cavs big man J.J. Hickson said.

Byron Scott’s patience has been put to its biggest test during the mounting losses and miseries.

Here’s a guy who coached New Jersey to consecutive appearances in the NBA final and who earned titles playing with the Lakers.

One of the heroes in Cleveland’s win was former Raptors swingman Anthony Parker, who buried all four of his three-pointers, including a game-sealing dagger late.

“The last one left a bad taste in my mouth,” Parker said as he recalled Miami’s 118-90 pasting of the Cavs in James’ much-ballyhooed return on Dec. 2 . “They embarrassed us. I was still a little ticked off by that.”

BIG AL'S FINE WITH COACH

A lot was made of Big Al Jefferson’s refusal to speak with reporters following a Utah loss to Washington.

With no minutes being given to Utah’s best player in the fourth quarter of regulation and in the five-minute extra session, talk was that the veteran power forward and Tyrone Corbin, the Jazz’s rookie head coach, weren’t on the same page.

Jefferson didn’t exactly endear himself when he decided not to talk, but he cleared the air, or at least tried to the following day.

“(Coach) made a joke about it earlier,” Big Al said, “and I kind of got upset because I really hate it when people put words in my mouth or say that I’m upset about something.”

Jefferson then added: “I’m not upset about nothing, especially with coach. I think coach is doing a wonderful job. I don’t know. I guess people don’t have nothing else to write about. They just want to make up some stuff. I don’t have no problem with coach.

“I have a right to be upset. We just lost a game that we should’ve won. I was more upset for the simple fact that the young guys played hard and get us back into the game and push it in overtime and lose, but not one time did I say I was upset with coach or anybody else.”

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Thursday

Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls

Teams may meet in East final. For now, meeting pits Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo.

Friday

Los angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers

Playoff-bound teams that may collide in two weeks; Gerald Wallace must contain Kobe.

Sunday

Miami Heat at Boston Celtics

Huge opportunity for Heat to knock off Celtics on home turf; LeBron must impose will.


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