Ainge: Shaq will return for playoffs

When the Boston Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins away to Oklahoma City, the burden of manning the middle for the Celtics fell heavily on Shaquille O’Neal.  After missing a significant amount of time (27 games) to deal with an issue in his right Achilles tendon, Shaq returned to the line up last week… only to strain his right calf against Detroit.

But that injury appears to have been as minor as the Celtics said it would be.  Danny Ainge now tells the Boston Globe Shaq will be ready for the playoffs.

“We’re planning as of right now of him practicing Thursday or Friday and being ready to play for Game 1 of the playoffs,” Ainge said. “I have every confidence that he will be ready and play in the playoffs.”

When asked if O’Neal could get some court time against the Knicks Wednesday, he said: “Probably not.”

Shaq’s return is pretty important to Boston’s title hopes.  He’s the enforcer they sorely need.  He takes up a lot of space in the lane.  And on offense, he still demands attention, clearing a lane for Rajon Rondo to drive and dish.  The Celtics’ offense was flowing quite well early in the season with Shaq as the starting center.  Even if he’s not ready for that level of play, it will mean a higher level of confidence for the team as they get a more familiar face out there.

It also means less time for Nenad Krstic as Jermaine O’Neal eats up his minutes.  Krstic can step in and knock down a few shots, but he’s just not ready to contribute much over the long playoff haul.  

Shaq’s a 39 year-old behemoth with bad wheels.  The dire importance of his return may be all you need to know about where the Celtics are right now.