Practice notes: J.O'Neal returns to court

WALTHAM, Mass. -- A collection of news and notes after the Boston Celtics practiced Saturday afternoon at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint:

The Celtics got a boost Saturday as both Jermaine O'Neal (knee) and Shaquille O'Neal (calf) returned to the practice court, helping to offset a day in which the team kept Semih Erden (groin) on the sideline and tried to do the same with Kevin Garnett (sore legs).

Shaq and Erden are game-time decisions for Sunday's tilt with the Indiana Pacers, while Jermaine O'Neal will not dress, though it appears he could be back on the floor as early as Wednesday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Kevin didn’t go [the entire practice], we kept bringing him in and out because his legs were sore," said Rivers, who stressed that it was more like preventative maintenance than anything to worry about. Rivers noted that Garnett remains 100-percent healthy and expects him in the starting lineup Sunday.

"Semih didn't practice at all because he has a groin pull and I don't know if he'll play tomorrow, for that matter, either. [Jermaine O'Neal] will not play [Sunday] and Shaq may play."

Even as injury concerns linger, it's a step in the right direction for a Boston team desperate for bodies. Shaq has missed four straight games due to lingering pain in his right calf, but returned to the floor for the first time since Dec. 8. Meanwhile, Jermaine O'Neal (left knee soreness) participated in his first full-team practice since departing in the second half of a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 8, and has missed the last 17 games due to the injury.

"They looked tired," Rivers said of the O'Neals. "We went a little longer today, we didn't do a lot of running; We did a lot of instructional stuff. But overall, it was a good practice. A great practice, actually. With a day off [Friday], I thought our focus was as good as it's been."

While Shaq went right in for treatment on his calf after practice, Jermaine O'Neal expressed excitement in getting back on the floor, while hinting that he hoped to play before (or on) Christmas.

"It felt good to be back out there, more than anything," said Jermaine O'Neal. "I didn’t expect anything, because when you expect too much, you'll just be disappointed. But, I took all but two or three reps."

Wearing a brace similar to the one he sported after his original left knee surgery while with the Pacers, O'Neal said he's moving well and wanted to see how his body responded before setting a firm timetable to play again. He acknowledged he couldn't play Sunday, even if Rivers asked.

"No, no way," said Jermaine O'Neal. "I've been out a a while and I don’t want to do anything dumb to push that back. Now, if you said another day beyond [Sunday], I’d say yes, I’ll be ready."

The Celtics will likely get at least one more practice day before Wednesday's game, which could be all Jermaine O'Neal needs to give Rivers a thumbs up. If not, he can buy himself a few more days before Saturday's Christmas showdown against a suddenly new-look Magic.

"That’s my Christmas and New Year's wish, play before both of [those dates]," said Jermaine O'Neal. "I can't tell you when. I won't play [Sunday], but I have a target date. I told these guys, but I don’t want to say it. I want to go home, get some rest, and hope that, with everything I did today, I'm good tomorrow."

A few other notes from a session that last roughly an hour and 45 minutes:

* The Celtics planned to do some work with smaller lineups, but without Rajon Rondo and Delonte West available, that went up in smoke.

"We were going to go with a small lineup today, then I realized that, if we did, we didn’t have enough smalls on the second team to guard them, so we couldn’t even do that," said Rivers. "We actually had more bigs today in practice, which was a delight."

* Rivers' quick take on the Pacers: "They're a good basketball team. I think they’re a playoff team. They have the firepower, No. 1, and they have length."

* West observed practice from the sideline wearing an electronic bone stimulator that he's hoping will speed up his recovery from a fractured right wrist. He playfully lofted a couple of left-hand-only shots after the session and reiterated his hope for a speedy recovery (Dr. Shaq suggested a three-month timetable when the injury originally occurred in late November, which would put him back around the All-Star break.)