Practice notes: Rivalry? What rivalry?

WALTHAM, Mass. -- A collection of news and notes after the Boston Celtics practiced Tuesday afternoon at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint:

As the hype surrounding Wednesday's showdown against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden starts to ramp up, the Celtics playfully chided their Atlantic Division brethren by decrying the use of the "rivalry" to describe the matchup this soon.

"It’s a rivalry?" Celtics captain Paul Pierce asked with a big grin. "Man, y’all are letting me in on all the new stuff, all the talk. I didn’t know we had a rivalry going."

With the Knicks, winners of eight straight, playing inspired ball and sitting a mere four games back in the division -- about as close as an opponent has managed to stay in the Big Three era -- the "R" word is being tossed around freely after years of lying dormant.

"Hey, if that's what y'all want it to be, if it'll sell more tickets and get more viewers, then I guess so," said Pierce. "[The media makes] up the rivalries, we don't. To be honest, New York is playing well, they're in our division, and both teams are streaking, so it's going to be an exciting game."

But the Celtics still cringed a bit at the suggestion of a rivalry, considering it hasn't been much of one in recent years.

"I don't know what it is, this rivalry thing, it hasn't been one," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who played for the Knicks from 1993-95. "We both were bad for a while, now we've been good for a while. The two teams haven't exactly matched up for a long time. You know when they do, it will be great."

That could come Wednesday when the Celtics put their own 10-game winning streak on the line in the nationally televised tilt (ESPN, 7 p.m.). But asked if he liked having a little divisional competition, Rivers playfully squashed that talk as well.

"I kinda liked it the other way," said Rivers. "Let's hope it goes back that way. I think any game with meaning -- for them it will have a lot more meaning, they're probably extremely fired up for this game and I hope our guys will match that intensity. But any time a game has energy, it's great. I think it's really great for us. Finding ways to get [the Celtics] up is nice, when you don't have to do it. We'll let the New York people do it by what they'll say over the next two days."

The Celtics and Knicks rivalry as a whole is one of the most storied in the game with the two teams meeting 440 times during the regular season and 138 of those games -- a whopping 31.4 percent -- have been decided by five points or less. The teams have also met 12 times in the postseason, with both sides winning six series. Of the NBA's original 11 teams, only three remain in the Celtics, Knicks, and Warriors (who relocated from Philadelphia to Golden State).

If nothing else, Rivers and Co. acknowledge that it's something special to play inside Madison Square Garden.

"I just know that, when the Knicks are playing well and there’s energy in the building, it’s fun for everybody," said Rivers. "I loved it as an opponent, I loved when I was playing there. It's the only [original] building alive, as far as older buildings. It has 'it' in it. It has that feeling inside, you can feel that."

A couple other nuggets from Boston's morning session:

* Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal was not on the court when Boston started its session, which seems to indicate that he's not quite ready to return to full-team activities. O'Neal had been working out on his own all last week, doing on-court activities in hopes of rejoining full-team workouts this week. O'Neal has missed 15 straight games with lingering soreness in his left knee.

* Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal, who has missed the last two games with a sore right calf, said he's "getting better," but Rivers said the team would evaluate him during Tuesday's practice before determining if he can play Wednesday against the Knicks.

"We'll see what he can do in practice today and, if he’s good, he’ll pay," said Rivers. "If not, we’ll probably sit him again."

Shaq playfully noted that his "calf juices" are replenishing after six days of rest, adding, "I'll be alright."