While one of the Celtics' veteran big men enters this postseason with serious question marks surrounding his health and durability, there's another who's feeling tip-top heading into Sunday's playoff opener. Shaquille O'Neal may be struggling, but Jermaine O'Neal is ready to roll in Game 1 against the Knicks.
"This is the best I've felt since last year," Jermaine O'Neal said after Friday's practice. "I feel good. I feel strong. I feel lean. I'm excited. You don't get this opportunity often.
"There are a lot of guys sitting at home, talking about next year. A lot of guys wondering about when they'll get this opportunity to compete for a championship. I've been on some very good teams, and I've had the opportunity to compete, but I know the feeling of coming up short. I've been given the opportunity to play with a team that's been there, a staff that's been there. We're 16 wins away. I'm 16 wins away from accomplishing a lifetime goal, and I'm very excited about that."
O'Neal doesn't yet know what his role will be in the postseason. He may end up playing some 37-minute games, like he did Monday night against the Wizards, or he may end up playing 15 behind Shaq if the big fella comes back. It's a tough situation for J.O. to be in, not knowing how he can contribute. But whatever he's got to do, he's ready.
"It's the same," he said. "My thought process has never changed. Whether it's before the trade, after the trade, Shaq's injury, whatever — my position stays the same. I come in and do my job and try to do it at a high level. Whatever the job is that's given to me — if it's just being healthy and playing well, that's it, that's fine. I'm here to lock in on the defensive end, block shots, rebound the basketball."
J.O. has missed 58 games this year, suffering from a cocktail of various knee injuries. But he was surprisingly durable in 2009 and '10 with the Raptors and Heat, playing 70 out of 82 games last year and 68 the season before.
When he says he feels his best since then, that's a big statement.
"My body feels great," he said. "It's just about maintaining everything that I've done. I've been in the training room getting therapy — I sit there every day, just getting the soreness out of my body. Lifting weights, conditioning, getting on the treadmill, running. That's what it's about for me right now."
The younger O'Neal has been around the NBA for 15 years without winning a championship. He's determined to change that this spring.