KG Returns to Practice, But O'Neal MRI Results Loom

WALTHAM, Mass. - The Boston Celtics' roster is about to undergo some major shifting.

Boston ran through its second practice of the week today and did so with limited numbers. However, one key figure made his return to the court and finally rejoined his team for some live action.

Kevin Garnett, who strained a muscle in his lower right leg on Dec. 29 in Detroit, was able to practice alongside his teammates for about half of the hour-long session. Although Garnett has been ruled out of playing in tomorrow night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats in the TD Garden, Rivers sounded optimistic about what he saw out of Garnett during his participation in live practice drills.

"No, he's not playing tomorrow, but he looked pretty good," said Rivers. "He actually, besides just his wind and stuff, I thought his movement was very good."

Still, though, Rivers wants to see more before KG returns to game action.

"Maybe," said Rivers of Garnett possibly returning for Monday night's tilt against the Orlando Magic. "I want to see him another practice, but he's getting close."

While Garnett is knocking on the door of a return to the lineup, it sounds as if another one of Boston's big men is knocking on the door at the doctor's office. Jermaine O'Neal, who just returned to the lineup a little more than two weeks ago, is again staring down the possibility of a prolonged exit from the lineup.

Boston was forced to play without O'Neal from Nov. 8 to Dec. 25 while he rested a sore left knee. That nagging injury clearly hasn't subsided, even with the lengthy time off, and the Celtics don't seem too optimistic about the news that will come back from the MRI O'Neal underwent today.

"I know he did an MRI, and they actually have the results, but I haven't checked (on them) yet," said Rivers. "Honestly, I think, my guess, is that they're going to have to do something (surgically)."

With Garnett taking part in only half of practice, O'Neal being out entirely and Semih Erden resting a pulled groin as well, the Celtics were forced to go through half of today's practice with only nine players. It doesn't take deep basketball knowledge to know that nine players aren't enough to run through live action, so Boston was forced to dip into their reserve fund of practice players – the coaching staff.

"Today, we had 10 guys for most of the practice and then it went down to nine, and we're still practicing," said Rivers. "We're throwing (Director of Basketball Development) Ty Lue and guys out on the floor just to get through stuff."

Having a coach participate in practice for humor is one thing, but doing it out of necessity is another. The Celtics have been lacking bodies all season long, and it's beginning to force Rivers to assume the worst when it comes to his frontline. As a result, he has prepared some pretty funky lineups during practice.

"Today was good because Marquis (Daniels) played the four for us for half the practice today and that was good for him," said Rivers, responding to the difficulty of practicing with a shortened lineup. "I mean, we had the crazy lineup of Marquis (at power forward) and (Glen Davis at center) in at the same time."

Those lineups may get even more funky in the coming days, because the Celtics plan on sending rookie point guard Avery Bradley down to their NBA Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, in the very near future.

Bradley, who has dealt with injury issues of his own this season, has been buried on Boston's bench all season long. With the Red Claws just a short trip away, he will have the ability to go and get some game action in while also being available if the C's need him in a pinch, such as a short-handed practice.

"We're going to send Avery down pretty soon too, so he can get some reps playing basketball," Rivers said. "I just think he needs to play basketball."

With Bradley likely exiting the premises soon, Daniels will also likely see an increase in minutes at point guard during practice. He has been, and will be, critical to Boston's ability to survive this latest shortage of players because of his knack for fitting into a wide array of roles. It's no longer reserves on the frontline who are of utter importance, because Rivers and the C's know that they will need to play small ball more often than they ever would have imagined back in October.

Daniels' ability to play any position outside of center - when the opponent's lineup permits - is a great asset for Boston. Rivers used today's practice as prep work for the lineup that will feature Daniels on the frontline.

Even better than Daniels' ability to just eat up minutes at all four positions is the fact that he can produce while he's in there. He has averaged 15.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG and 2.0 APG over his last two contests while shooting 61.9 percent from the floor. O'Neal played only 21 minutes in the first of those two games and he missed the second entirely. Daniels has stepped in to pick up some of those minutes – he averaged 25 MPG in those contests – and is playing with an incredible amount of comfort and poise.

"I think over the last two or three games, Marquis is really playing well for us and he's just getting better," Rivers said of his versatile reserve. "He's very good (in the post). He's terrific down there. And he's a great passer down there. Yesterday we ran a lot of 'floppy' action with him being the ball handler and Nate and whoever he's in with coming off looking to shoot. We're going to do more of that, too."

The Celtics hope that tomorrow night's game against the Bobcats is the last without Garnett, which will in turn let players like Daniels slide back to their more natural positions. Until that happens, which could be on Monday, players like Daniels and Luke Harangody are going to have to be just as important to the winning formula as guys like Allen, Pierce and Rondo are every night of the season.