BOSTON — Marquis Daniels' season ended last year with a freak injury. This season he could fall victim to simple numbers, but he is doing everything in his power to be a part of the equation in the playoffs.
Daniels, the Celtics' unfailingly professional veteran swingman, considers every game a blessing after his scary spine injury last February. A year ago, he wondered if he would ever play basketball again, so he is not about to complain about his shortage of playing time this season, with a career-low 12.6 minutes per game.
Still, Daniels cannot hide his desire to be a part of the Celtics' postseason plans, and his play in the last three games has given the team more reason to trust him in the playoffs.
"I'm trying to show that I'm ready whenever my number's called," Daniels said after putting up 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in Tuesday's 78-66 win over the Miami Heat. "Whether that's staying after late getting a workout in, coming in early, just taking advantage of the time that I have."
Daniels has been a regular recipient of "DNPs" and garbage-time minutes this season, but in the past week he has taken his limited opportunities and shown glimpses of the versatile player who was a key contributor to playoff teams in Dallas. He played 13 valuable minutes in a win over the Orlando Magic, then played three different positions in Friday's close loss to the Atlanta Hawks, scoring 12 points with eight rebounds and a season-high four steals.
The timing of Daniels' emergence has been both great and terrible. He has opened his coaches' eyes to the abilities he still possesses, yet there is not enough time in the season for him to continue to show his full array of skills. Rotations in the playoffs typically dwindle to eight or nine players, and Daniels could prove to be the odd man out for the Celtics.
The starting lineup is set with Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma would be two of the first three players off the bench, and if Ray Allen is healthy, he jumps to the top of that list.
That leaves no more than one or two rotation spots for Sasha Pavlovic, Keyon Dooling, Ryan Hollins, E'Twaun Moore and Daniels. Dooling is the only bench player the Celtics would likely trust to play minutes at point guard in the playoffs, and a 7-footer like Hollins will almost always be welcome on any roster. Pavlovic has bolstered his reputation as a hard-working defender who can hit an open shot, and Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday that he expects Moore to play in the playoffs and to "help us win a game."
Daniels' name was conspicuously absent from the discussion until his performance on Tuesday left Rivers no choice but to address it after the game.
"You put Sasha, Marquis, E'Twaun, Keyon in that bowl of guys," Rivers said. "All four may help us at some point."
While playing and contributing to the Celtics is foremost in Daniels' mind, he is a free agent at the end of this season and would naturally like more opportunities to show he can still be a healthy and productive player. As with the Celtics' other soon-to-be free agents, Daniels has not let his contract situation or playing time affect the locker room. To the contrary, Rivers has lauded his veteran role players for creating a positive environment and supporting the team's young players like Bradley, Moore and JaJuan Johnson.
"You're playing for pride every night you're out there, regardless of how many minutes you play," Daniels said. "You're just out there trying to show everybody you can play this game. You're always auditioning for a team, whether it's this team or another team. You're still going out there working hard to better yourself.
"Right now, we're focusing on our playoff push and our playoff run. You never know. You could play yourself into a situation, you could play yourself out, so you've just got to make sure you're ready."
Daniels had no control over his season ending prematurely last year, but this year his fate may be in his own hands. For Daniels, that is a far more welcome scenario.