WALTHAM, Mass. — The Celtics met up at their facility in Waltham, Mass., on Thursday afternoon for a long-awaited practice session, but they were lacking two key players. Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal are still not back with the team.
There was optimism around the Celtics' locker room, since Shaq had been traveling with the team and Jermaine was progressing nicely with his rehab from knee surgery, that both were nearing a return. But now it appears that both veteran centers are still a week away.
But the Celtics had the other 13 of their 15 players available for practice, and they refused to make excuses for their Wednesday night loss.
"You've got to win in spite of it, not lose because of it," assistant coach Kevin Eastman said Thursday. "You win in spite of what's going on with your team. You don't say, 'Well, we're not winning because of this.' That's what we're trying to do as a coaching staff and as players. Whatever predicament is thrown at us, we've just got to deal with it, fight our way through it, and figure it out rather than use it as an excuse. You can't advance if you live off of excuses."
For the moment, Nenad Krstic is still the starting center in Boston, with Glen Davis coming off the bench as his primary backup. The C's are surviving without their big men, but their bench depth will get a serious boost from getting the two bigs back.
"We'll be a totally different team," said Delonte West, one of the current leaders of the second unit. "They won't put up overwhelming numbers — Shaq's not going to put up vintage Shaq numbers like 35 and 25 — but they bring a presence, a veteran presence. You step out on the floor and the opposing team's looking at him like, 'Man, that's Shaq.' He gives us size, he clogs the lane up.
"And J.O., we all know what J.O. can do. He's a big rebounder, defender. He's going to make us that much better."
The Celtics are still expecting to have both O'Neals back for the playoffs. One return date for Shaq that's been rumored but unconfirmed is April 1, when the Celtics play at Atlanta. Jermaine O'Neal is also expected back sometime next week, although he will likely need at least one practice before he resumes game action.
"I think we need everybody," assistant coach Armond Hill said. "We need Jermaine, we need everybody. Everybody who has a nick or a bump. We need everybody in games, we need everybody in practice, we need everybody in walkthrough. We can't eliminate anybody."