The Celtics just wrapped up a practice in preparation for their “showdown” with the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night and the news is not good regarding the C’s starting center Shaquille O’Neal. According to Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com’s twitter account, Shaq did not practice and will miss his second straight game tomorrow night against the Cavs.
Rivers also told the media that Shaq is not certain to make the team’s four-game west coast road swing, which begins Thursday night in Portland. Doc did note though that it is more likely he would rejoin the team during the second or third game of the trip, (either against Phoenix or the Lakers).
* Marquis Daniels also missed practice due to a family issue and is currently not with the team. Doc listed him as 50/50 for tomorrow night’s game. Without Daniels, Big Baby played the three spot with the second unit.
* Kendrick Perkins practiced as the center with the second unit. He is adamant about returning to the floor, but Doc told reporters the plan remains February 4th, a Friday night home contest with the Dallas Mavericks.
* Delonte West was seen shooting without a brace on his right hand.
CH’s Analysis: Plenty of stuff to cover here but we’ll start with the Shaq injury news. On the surface, the news is troublesome regarding his right hip, but a closer inspection of the schedule and you can realize exactly what Doc Rivers is up to here with The Big Diesel.
The C’s have wisely been extremely cautious with O’Neal all season long, and the situation with the right hip should be no different. Holding him out against Cleveland is a no-brainer for obvious reasons.
Look ahead to the first part of the C’s west coast trip and you realize that although the C’s could surely use Shaq’s services, their opponents line up well for his absence. In Portland, you have a squad that is down the services of its starting center in Marcus Camby. That leaves them with Joel Pryzbilla getting the nod, and their bigs off the bench being Dante Cunningham and the immortal Sean Marks. Not exactly murderer’s row, and certainly a crew that Boston’s front line should do more than hold their own against without Shaq.
Friday night, the C’s will venture down to Phoenix for the second night of a back-to-back. Again, this is another game where Shaq’s services against the run-and-gun Suns will not be pivotal. Boston will probably go small for much of this contest as is, and the Suns front line doesn’t have anyone really capable of inflicting major damage down low besides Marcin Gortat.
Fast forward to Sunday’s tilt with LA however and you have a contest where Shaq’s services will be more pivotal than ever. Forget the allure and bright lights of the matchup for a second. If the C’s want to win this battle against the three-headed monster of Odom, Gasol and Bynum, they will surely need more than Erden, KG, Big Baby, and (gulp) Luke to do it.
So you the pile up the rest now for Shaq while you can, and fire him out there when you really need him next Sunday, when the pain of that hip probably won’t be so bad on national TV under the Staples Center lights.
In the meantime however, another question presents itself to Doc. Does he continue to go with just three bigs in the rotation until Shaq comes back? Personally, I was a bit surprised to see no Luke Harangody during Saturday’s loss against Washington. The guy has clearly struggled lately with his shot (outside of that double-double home outburst), and with KG back, Doc could slide Big Baby to his 4 spot coming off the bench and run Semih out there for another chance at playing time.
Erden has made the most of that opportunity, posting career highs in both points and boards these past couple games, but I worry about the minutes onus on both KG and Big Baby if he continues to stay away from Luke. Both of those bigs lugged 36 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday night and part of me (okay, a lot of me) believes they ran out of gas down the stretch due to that.
One way to solve this problem obviously is to blow out a team like the Cavs tomorrow night. Without that though, I would prefer to see Doc give Harangody a little leash, if nothing else to continue to keep the minutes down. For the most part, Rivers had done a tremendous job in this department this year, but he needs to continue to play it conservative with these guys, especially with the team as shorthanded as it is.
One more thing, before I wrap this up. You know what sucks right now? The fact that Jermaine O’Neal is not available. Instead, the C’s have just 10 healthy bodies with the team right now. And with Daniels questionable for tomorrow night, Von Wafer could see a season high for minutes against the lowly Cavs.