Doc Rivers Prepares Celtics for Games Without Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal

Doc Rivers Prepares Celtics for Games Without Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal In an ideal world, a lot of wildly unrealistic things would be true.

Cable TV channels would clog their primetime schedules with hoops every night from October to June, nixing all that reality TV garbage. Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland" would replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" as our national anthem. Parking in downtown Boston would be free and easy to come by. And I'd have more followers on Twitter than that punk kid Justin Bieber.

And yeah, sure, in an ideal world, the Celtics would survive the entire season without injuries to their two veteran centers.

But that's not happening either.

Ever since the C's convened for training camp a month and a half ago, coach Doc Rivers has hinted that his team is preparing for this. Inevitably, he's said, there'll come a day when both Shaquille O'Neal and his "brother" Jermaine are out of action at the same time, and Doc will have to have a contingency plan ready.

It hasn't happened yet, which seems somewhat miraculous considering the thick medical files on each veteran. Jermaine O'Neal has suffered from every minor ailment known to man within the past month, enduring hamstring, wrist and back pain among others, and now it's a sore knee that's kept him out of action this week during Boston's road trip. As for Shaquille, he'll likely be struggling with that arthritic hip all year long, and he's also recovering from a bruised kneecap suffered in a collision with Amare Stoudemire two weeks ago.

So far Doc has mixed, matched and made it work. He went with Shaq for five preseason games and Jermaine for four, he started the season with Shaq in the lineup the first week, then he switched to Jermaine after the Amare debacle against the Knicks on Oct. 29. Jermaine's been the starter for the last five games, but that streak's in danger now. The 32-year-old Jermaine O'Neal left Monday night's game in Dallas with two minutes to go before halftime, giving way to Glen Davis, and he didn't come back. He hasn't practiced since.

It's not a coincidence that the C's have had one O'Neal on the floor for every single game this fall — it's because Doc has forced it. He's been trying for dear life to stave off that fateful day when the C's take the floor O'Neal-lessly.

Maybe that day's coming Thursday in Miami. Maybe it's not. The coach won't really say.

Rivers addressed the media at the team's Wednesday practice in Miami, and he wouldn't give a straight answer about his centers. First he said he had no idea, then he admitted "likely neither," and then he backtracked and said "maybe both," all within the span of about 20 seconds. So Doc doesn't know much at the moment, and what little he does know, he's not eager to share.

Whether the day without centers comes Thursday or not, Rivers has done his homework just in case. He's been developing Davis to be a low-post presence and a crunch-time mainstay at center — undersized or not, Big Baby has already proven he's up to that challenge. He's been giving Semih Erden as many minutes as possible, working quickly to develop a rookie center that can play major minutes when needed. And he's experimented with smaller, more athletic lineups at times, going long stretches where Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or even Marquis Daniels is the biggest player on the floor. If Doc's not going to have a true center on the floor, he's going to find a way to work around it.

The Celtics would love to have their O'Neals on the floor on Thursday night if healthy. Against a Miami front line of Joel Anthony (too small) and Chris Bosh (too soft), their size would be a tremendous advantage. If Shaq were 100 percent, he'd be commanding a double-team in the low post all night long.

But the C's are too smart to bank on that. They're staying realistic, and they're keeping the big picture in mind. There's no sense overextending for a regular-season game in early November. If the O'Neals shouldn't go, they won't.

If the Celtics were fully healthy, they'd be unstoppable. But they're not, so instead they face the test of a truly great team: winning anyway. On Thursday night, they'll find out where they stand.

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