Kemba Walker returns to Celtics' lineup after missing 3 games

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BOSTON -- Celtics guard Kemba Walker will return to the lineup Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks after missing three games with left knee soreness.

"I feel pretty good," Walker said Friday after the team's morning shootaround. "It's much improved. I'm going to try to give it a go tonight."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker is going to be on a minutes restriction of about 30 against the Hawks. He played over 35 minutes in three of four games prior to sitting out.

Walker said that the games off did him a lot of good.

"It did," he said. "Just rested, [got] a lot of treatment [and] some strengthening, as well. Just trying to get back right."

Sitting out games is a new thing for Walker, who had missed six games combined over the previous four seasons. He has already missed eight games this season -- the first season of a four-year max contract he signed with Boston last summer.

And while he admitted it isn't easy to watch, he has been glad to see the Celtics reel off three straight victories while he sat this week and go 6-2 overall while he has been sidelined this season.

"I wouldn't say embracing [sitting out]," he said. "It's really just being smart about things. But I think it's definitely helped me. It's good to get some rest and just kind of get back mentally a little bit. It's good. And the team is playing really well while I've been out, so that's been good as well."

Marcus Smart also will return to the lineup Friday night. He sat out two games after getting kneed in the quadriceps during Saturday night's win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Daniel Theis and Jaylen Brown each will remain out with right ankle sprains, though, and Gordon Hayward will sit for the first time in over a month with a sore left foot, an injury that has nagged at him throughout the season.

"Just a number of nagging things," Stevens said of Hayward's absence. "He's the one guy that since Christmas Day has played in every game. Everybody else has gotten an organic rest because of the injuries. ... He's probably been due the last couple of games to miss one."