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After fracturing his right wrist in only his fifth game of the season, Delonte West is nearing a return.Celtics guard Delonte West took another important step in his recovery from a fractured right wrist on Wednesday afternoon by participating in his first full-contact practice since he suffered the injury back on Nov. 24 against the New Jersey Nets.
The Celtics will get a much-needed boost when West is ready to return to the court.West was a welcome addition to a practice squad that was down to 10 healthy players as Celtics captain Paul Pierce (illness) joined Shaquille O'Neal (inflamed Achilles), Semih Erden (right adductor strain), Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord), and Jermaine O'Neal (left knee surgery) on the list of players unable to partake in the session.
"With Marquis going down and Paul absent today, I had to get on out there sooner than I expected," West said after the team practiced at the Sports Authority Training Center at Healthpoint. "I definitely surprised myself. I was able to go full-contact. I got down in there, scrapped it around with the big guys a little bit. My conditioning was there, [my] timing [was] a little off. A lot of things working at the same time, trying to re-think the plays and also dealing with going against the starting five, one of the best defenses in the league. That's the way to welcome me back."
West said he felt "confident" in how his wrist felt, and even hinted at a possible return for Thursday night's showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. But that optimism was stymied by team trainer Ed Lacerte and Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who would prefer to see the somewhat rusty West continue to work his way back slowly.
"If it was up to me, I'm confident in playing tomorrow, but [coaches] said my timing was off, [my] familiarity with the plays wasn't 100 percent, and I guess in a game like tomorrow we need 'fo' shos' out there," West said. "I would love to go [Thursday], I feel confident, I expressed that to the trainers, Ed Lacerte, and Doc, but I think they may want to stick to the plan, or at least a few more days of practice."
The current plan calls for West to return after the All-Star break, which, for the Celtics, begins after next Wednesday's game with the New Jersey Nets. Such a timetable would potentially put West back in the Celtics' lineup for the first game of another four-game Western Conference road trip against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
West, though, is longing for game action again, and did not fully rule out a return to the court prior to the break next week.
"I would love to play [Thursday]. I'm a competitor," West said. "I think that's one of the things that the doctors and the coaching staff were scared of. Once you get a guy on the floor, injury or not, we want to compete, we want to go, but that might not be in our best interest or be in my best interest to go full-tilt right now. We'll just stick to the plan and hopefully I can get in there before the All-Star break."
West deemed himself "85 percent" right now, and cautioned that he might not be back to 100 percent for six months as he endures some leftover discomfort in the surgically repaired area. West's wrist was taped at practice and had a small brace over it, and he said he would most likely use a similar method of protection once he starts playing in games again.
"I still can't fully rotate my wrist all the way around," West admitted. "There's still a lot of pain in there. But that doesn't mean the bone isn't healed. It doesn't mean I'm not going to be able to play. I just have to deal with some discomfort for a few months."
West did not suffer through any hard hits or falls during Wednesday's practice, and such an event most likely looms as something of a mental hurdle for the seven-year veteran, seeing as the initial injury occurred on a hard fall following a made layup back in November. West reaffirmed that he's still watching kung fu videos, as well as other professional sports, in an attempt to teach himself how to fall without placing his wrist in any greater danger.
"I've been doing my research," West said. "I'm not trying to make a joke here, but I've been studying kung fu and, seriously, guys that fall for a living. I was watching football games up until the Super Bowl. Those guys deal with contact all the time and hitting the ground. They try their best to prevent putting hands down. They do tucks and rolls and there's a few things I can do to prevent really putting my hands down and causing further injury."
West was once again one of the final players off the practice floor Wednesday afternoon -- a site that has become common to reporters. After working through a shooting drill with two of the team's ball boys serving as his rebounders, West joined assistant coach Armond Hill for a more intense drill that called for him to incorporate more ballhandling before he set himself up for a shot attempt.
West was adamant about returning on schedule ever since a recovery path was plotted by team doctors. Mere weeks ago, West wasn't even fully capable of catching or handling a basketball. Now, a return is imminent, and while it may not come tomorrow night against the Lakers, or even Sunday against the Miami Heat, the finish line is certainly in sight.
"I want to be out there," West said. "I want to help out. I want to help this team win. We have a few big games coming up and I'd love to get out there and give my two cents."
Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com