Smart expected back next week

Boston Celtics rookie guard Marcus Smart is expected to return to game action next week, according to coach Brad Stevens.

While Smart is only starting to ramp up his on-court activity as he works his way back from a left ankle injury, Stevens told reporters in Philadelphia on Wednesday that Smart could be back as early as Sunday's visit from the Portland Trail Blazers. The more likely scenario is a return later in the week as Boston has a four-day break through Thanksgiving before hosting the Chicago Bulls in a Friday matinee.

"I think there is the potential that he could be back as early as early next week," Stevens said. "I, personally, think Sunday would be stretching it. I don’t know that. But then, I think he could be back [on the floor] once we have that four-day break."

Smart suffered a severe ankle sprain and bone bruising after stepping on an opponent's foot earlier this month against the Indiana Pacers. While the injury looked worse and Smart was stretchered off the floor, the team announced that Smart would miss 2-3 weeks, a timeline that pegged him for a return next week.

Smart is traveling with the Celtics on a brief two-game road trip, but is still easing his way back.

"He was able to move and shoot a little [during Tuesday's practice], nothing more than that," Stevens said. "He’s not able to do any of the defensive drills, not able to do 5-on-5, nothing laterally. At least that’s what I’ve been told as of [Wednesday]."

Stevens stressed that the team won't rush Smart's return to either practice or game action.

"He’s not going to play in anything until he’s ready," Stevens said. "If he was ready as early as Sunday, we’d play him. But if he’s not, then it makes sense to have [four] more days."

The Celtics have missed Smart's defensive tenacity in recent games. In five appearances, Smart was averaging 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 steals over 20.4 minutes per game. Boston found success with smaller three-guard lineups that often featured him alongside the starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.