Boston Celtics reserve center Jermaine O'Neal underwent a left knee arthroscopy Friday and the team optimistically set a recovery window of 6 to 8 weeks, according to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
O'Neal, who has missed 32 games this season due to lingering soreness in his knee, was in the middle of a four-week rehab stint aimed at strengthening the muscles around the knee, believing that would allow for a late February return. But swelling persisted and, despite initial hopes that surgery could be avoided, O'Neal elected for the procedure which could have him back on the court before the end of the regular season, with Ainge noting that early April is the initial goal.
"So, last time we talked, Jermaine was not getting surgery, [but the knee] didn’t respond like we had hoped for the first four or five days of that, [he] reconsidered, and had a left knee arthroscopy today -- had his left knee cleaned out," said Ainge. "We’re not sure about a time frame. Our best guess is 6 to 8 weeks. Surgery went fine and we’re hoping that alleviates the swelling that he keeps getting with extra activity.
"He has some arthritis and some loose particles in there and that was the reason [team physician] Dr. [Brian] McKeon wanted to go in there and clean it out. The surgery was performed by Brian McKeon and it was exactly what he thought, and he thought that was the best solution from the beginning. It just took Jermaine a little while to get on board with that. He was hoping that he could make it through the year without getting surgery."
After seeking multiple opinions in recent months, O'Neal elected to avoid surgery and hoped four weeks of strengthening his glutes and quads would allow the knee to hold up for the rest of the season. Ainge revealed that, when the knee swelled even before heightened activity, O'Neal began to reconsider his options.
O'Neal spent two months sidelined at the beginning of the season and, after returning on Christmas Day in Orlando, lasted only 10 games before the knee swelled again, so much so that it forced him to shut down again.
"I think [surgery] was the right decision," said coach Doc Rivers. "I wish we had moved a little earlier on it, but I think J.O. had to make sure he wanted to do it. And he exhausted every avenue, which I thought he should have done because it's a tough decision."
The Celtics played Friday without Shaquille O'Neal, who missed his 12th game of the season, this time with an inflamed Achilles. It's the latest in a hodgepodge of maladies for the 38-year-old center, who previously missed time due to a bruised right knee, sore right calf, and sore right hip.
That leaves Boston's frontcourt leaning heavy on Kendrick Perkins, who is still in the infancy of his return from offseason ACL surgery. Perkins hopped back into the starting lineup for the first time Friday night, chipping in 13 points and 12 rebounds over 32:31.
"We have plenty of big men," said Ainge. "Perk is back playing and playing well, and seems to be handling the minutes; Semih, I don’t know how many minutes Semih played [Friday], not a lot -- seven minutes, he’s certainly capable of picking up some extra minutes there; [and] Baby played 20 [minutes on Friday], so we’re OK the way we are now.”
Perkins took the optimistic approach, hoping that Jermaine O'Neal could contribute down the stretch.
"Missing a guy like Jermaine is hard," said Perkins. "A guy like Jermaine is a great guy, great addition to the team. To know he’s coming back in a month or so is great. We could use him in the playoffs... Obviously, you don’t want him to go through surgery, but it’s great to hear he can return at the end of the season."
--HAPPY HOMECOMING FOR NORTHEASTERN'S BAREA--
Jose Juan Barea is one of only five NBA players to come out of Northeastern University and two of them played exclusively for the Celtics in Reggie Lewis (1987-93) and Rick Weizmann (1967-68). But the fifth-year guard still etched his name to a rare Boston honor on Friday night.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Barea became the first Northeastern product to ever reach double digits in either points, rebounds, or assists in one game while playing against the Celtics in Boston. Barea earned his first start of the season for Dallas and chipped in 11 points and three assists over 26:23.
"I had four good years here of my life, learned a lot," said Barea. "I visited [Northeastern on Thursday]. It's always good to come back."
Barea's night turned out to be fairly eventful, not always for good reasons. Not only did he airball a third-quarter jumper and hear it from the crowd, but Barea put a hard foul on Garnett to save an easy bucket in that same frame and got a shove for his troubles (Garnett was assessed his seventh technical foul of the year on the play).
"[The foul] was nothing -- just part of the game," Barea said. "It was a good, hard foul and he just got really upset. He said a lot of stuff and I couldn’t believe he got so mad about it."
Asked by a reporter about Garnett's reputation for going after smaller players, Barea shrugged it off.
"Yeah, I've heard that," he said. "Hey, it's all part of the game."
As for the homecoming, Barea said he didn't have an overwhelming request for tickets.
"All my boys and all my [former] teammates and friends, they're all gone," said Barea. "They're all somewhere else now, but I still got a couple. But not like it used to be."
--LOOSE BALLS: RIVERS NOT CONCERNED; DIRK FOR MVP; PIERCE'S CHARGES--
* Rivers didn't seem too rattled by Friday's loss, simply admitting his team failed to execute down the stretch. "We just lost the game," said Rivers. "We didn’t play great; we didn’t play poorly. We just lost the basketball game. I don’t think I’m going to look too deeply to this game.”
* Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on why Dirk Nowitzki deserves MVP consideration: ""Value to our team. He's got the biggest plus/minus differential on a team basis, of any player in the league. He means a lot to us and there are certainly other players that would be in that category with their particular teams, but his value and importance to us is probably higher than any other star player on any other team."
* Paul Pierce absorbed two charges Friday night, moving into sole possession of second place on the Celtics' roster with seven for the season. Glen Davis leads Boston -- and the NBA -- with a whopping 38 charges drawn through 49 games. As a team, Boston has registered 67 charges on the year.
* In the battle of potential Sixth Man of the Year candidates, Dallas' Jason Terry poured in 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting over 34:44, while Boston's Glen Davis had one of his quietest performances of the season, registering two points and six rebounds over 20:41.