WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't make a formal declaration, but Shaquille O'Neal is expected to start at center for his new team in Tuesday night's ballyhooed season opener against the Miami Heat.
"Most likely Shaq, but we haven't officially announced anything," Rivers said Monday afternoon at Celtics practice. "But most likely him."
With Jermaine O'Neal sidelined through much of training camp (hamstring) and missing four preseason games in part because of two other ailments (back, left wrist), it's been widely assumed Shaq would be the starter.
That also appears to be the right decision based on the team's performance this preseason. Shaq helped open the floor offensively by forcing the opposing center to stick with him and didn't prove to be as much of a liability defensively as some expected (though Boston certainly has put the onus on its guards to get over screens in the pick-and-roll).
Rivers also said that rookie center Semih Erden (shoulder) is likely to dress, but wouldn't tip his hand on how the rest of Boston's active roster will look for the first of 82 games.
As for the Heat, the Celtics are preparing as if Miami will have a completely healthy Dwyane Wade (Rivers said to pencil him in for 40 minutes) and find its chemistry immediately, despite the lack of time together in the preseason.
"Great players figure it out," said Rivers. "They'll be great, we understand that. The summer they had, all the talk and anticipation. We're going to get great players that are really fired up. So, in that way, it won't be like a normal regular-season game. You'll see those three guys at full speed, full blast."
Asked if he was curious how Miami's Big Three would come together, Celtics captain Paul Pierce said, "I'm not really curious because I know they're going to figure it out. They're great players. Great players are always going to find a way to figure it out. My worries are more with what's going on with this basketball club."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.