Last we heard, Shaquille O’Neal might have been back by April 1.
He had a shot to ease pain in his foot and has been wearing a boot, which should come off later this week, but Doc Rivers told the Boston Globe not to expect the big man back that fast. Think April 3. Or more likely 5. Or…
“Just being around the game long enough to know when you take a boot off you usually don’t play a day later. I just don’t see him flying on a plane after you get your boot off. I just think that’s unrealistic.
“There’s a better chance (April 3), I still don’t think that’s realistic. I think more the game the day after that would be our target date for Shaq. I would say they’re thinking maybe Atlanta or the first game back, but I think there’s no chance of that.”
An April 5 return would leave Shaq six games to get his feel and timing back before the start of the playoffs. That shouldn’t be too hard — he played in and started 36 games for Boston this season — but that is a lot of rust to shake off. Boston needs him on the back line defending and rebounding to get back to the finals.
We might have said Boston would be in trouble counting on Shaq to come back and own the paint again, but after last season’s run in the playoffs we won’t be fooled again. Boston is not going to surprise us this time. We expect the Celtics to be ready to roll when it matters.