Don’t ask Shaq about facing Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum in the playoffs

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Shaquille O’Neal has only appeared in 36 games for the Celtics this season, and hasn’t appeared in any since Feb. 1. But Boston didn’t add Shaq for the regular season, they added him with the hope that he’ll provide some size and depth at the center position for what the team hopes will be another long run deep into the postseason.

O’Neal is targeting April 1 as a return date, and since he’s been expected back for the playoffs all along, ESPN’s Marc Stein wanted to get his thoughts on the possibility of facing two of the league’s elite big men: Orlando’s Dwight Howard, and the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum.

Bad idea. The exchange went like this:

Q: How much do you look forward to the opportunity to go up against guys like Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum in the playoffs?

A: Excuse me? Don’t ask me a question like that.

Q: But that’s what people want to know. Those guys are playing so well and everyone wants to see if you can match up with them one-on-one.

A: First of all, they won’t dare play me one-on-one, even at the tender age of 39. And you know what? Playin’ those teams, it ain’t gonna be about the [center] matchup, so I don’t really worry about that.

Despite being 39 years of age, having a diminished skill set, and being limited by injury over the past couple of seasons, O’Neal’s ego is still as big as ever. He’s always taken offense when others are mentioned as being better or greater, especially in the case of these two players. O’Neal has often bristled at Howard’s usurping of his Superman persona, and he’s never been fond of the idea of Bynum becoming an immediate and effective replacement for him in Los Angeles.

Shaq may not be able to contribute as he once could to his team’s run at a title, and his assertion about teams not playing him one-on-one (defensively) might not be correct, simply because he’s not a focal point of the offense, and isn’t really a threat to get a significant amount of touches down on the low block. But if he can defend and rebound while staying out of foul trouble, and just clog the middle enough to make things difficult for his opponents’ slashers, then he may still have the impact he desires in the postseason.