Pregame: Doc downplays 'message' game

MIAMI -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers continues to downplay the "sending a message" aspect of Sunday's showdown against the Heat, but admitted it's a big game because of the postseason implications.

"I heard [Miami's Chris] Bosh say this is a message game and all that crap," said Rivers. "I think it’s an important game in that the winner gets home court [in the conference semifinals if top seeds advance]. Other than that, the whole message thing -- if we win this game, I don't think that’s going to make them not want to play us in the second round. If they win, I don’t think it’s going to send a big message to us. A win means you have a chance to have home court in a seventh game -- and the first two games, which people overlook. I think that's important."

Down the hall, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra suggested his team is already in playoff mode.

"It started to feel like the playoffs last week," said Spoelstra. "We wanted to really treat the Charlotte game as the first game of a playoff series. We changed our approach and our preparation. We did the same thing going into this game."

With that in mind, LeBron James didn't hold his normal pregame chat with the media. Yes, there's a playoff-like intensity around this one.

A couple other pregame nuggets:

* Rivers said it was a pretty simple decision not to bring Shaquille O'Neal (right calf strain) on this final road trip of the season and didn't want to predict whether the 39-year-old center would be back on the court in Wednesday's regular-season finale against the New York Knicks.

"Honestly, I didn't talk to him, I just talked to [team trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] and he said he wasn't ready," said Rivers. "It wasn't a long conversation. I just said, 'Is he ready or not?' He said, 'No.' That was it."

Pressed on O'Neal's potential return, Rivers said: "[Wednesday is] possible, but I’m just going to wait and see. To be honest, that's the last thing I’m thinking about."

* Jermaine O'Neal is back in the starting lineup after getting a maintenance day Friday against the Wizards. J.O. had played five games in eight days before that coming off left knee surgery. Rivers reiterated that he wants to change the way he's utilizing his veteran center, limiting the length of time he spends on the bench.

"I don’t think I’ve done a very good job with the way we’ve played him," said Rivers. "I thought resting him for long periods was good. It turns out it probably was not, so we'll try to tweak that a little bit."