What's the bigs deal?

Chris Forsberg/ESPN Boston

Celtics forward/center Chris Wilcox returned to practice activities on Thursday.WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics forward/center Chris Wilcox returned to practice activities on Thursday, a step forward in his rehab for a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb. But while Wilcox is ahead of schedule, he tempered expectations about his game availability moving forward.

"I’m going to go out here and see what I’m comfortable with," Wilcox said before Boston's afternoon session. "That’s not saying if I go out here, I’m going to play tomorrow. I want to go out here and see what I can do and what I feel comfortable with...

"I’m going to definitely get out there and get up and down with the team, just try to get some plays -- we put in a couple new plays -- run through that stuff and see how I am. Catching the ball, getting the feel of shooting a little bit, and we’ll go from there."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested Wilcox would be out as much as a month when initially detailing the injury in late December, which would suggest his projected return is still a ways out, even if he accelerated that time table.

"He’s ahead," said Rivers. "I don’t know what that means, because I don’t really know what the schedule was. But it’s funny, [team trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] told me yesterday that he’s ahead of schedule, and I said, ‘Well, I never knew what the schedule was.’ I guess that’s good news. That’s all I can tell you."

Wilcox sported a thick tape wrap around the injured thumb and wrist to stabilize it. His return to the practice floor alone added some much-needed depth up front for a Boston team cobbling its way through some injury woes.

Rivers said veteran center Jason Collins is battling minor hamstring and ankle ailments and the Celtics have tried to limit his game action while he heals. Collins has played a total of just nine minutes over the last three games, but a need for pure height pressed him into minor action against both the Hawks and Suns.

"Jason is still injured, so we’re still trying to get through this stretch without using him much," said Rivers.

Rookie Fab Melo, sidelined since late December after sustaining a concussion while hitting his head on a doorway while on assignment with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, was on the floor before Boston's practice on Thursday. But team officials said Melo has not been cleared for contact and remains unable to participate in team activities as he attempts to pass the league-mandated requirements to return from the head injury.

Once healthy, Melo will almost certainly be returned to the D-League in order to resume his development. He had a couple of breakout games before the accident in South Dakota forced him to push the pause button on his time with the Claws.