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Is Shaquille O’Neal out for the season?

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It's not exactly the most startling news, but that doesn't mean this isn't a terrible blow to the Boston Celtics if true. An NBA source has confided with the North Andover Eagle Tribune that Shaquille O'Neal is likely out for the playoffs. Knock you over with a feather, I know, but this is still a killer for the C's.

From the paper:

The Celtics came to this conclusion after Shaq failed to complete one simple sprint up and down the court during a "conditioning test" on Saturday, before he limped off the court in Waltham.

The Celtics held out a slim hope Shaq would be able to make his return in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Knicks or possibly in the conference semifinals, if they advanced.

"If he were to come back, it would have to be a miraculous recovery," said the source, who requested anonymity. "And at his age (he turned 39 on March 6) and physical condition, the Celtics have planned accordingly."

Now, I could have been this source, for all the new information relayed. Everyone can guess accurately at O'Neal's status from a few televised clips of him getting around from a thousand miles away. Shaq has been limping terribly since an aborted attempt at a return to game action earlier this month, and injuries to your calf muscle take ages to return from even if you're svelte, full of potassium, and in your athletic prime.

When you're working with a 39-year-old, 7-2, 300-whatever-pound frame? Things are a bit trickier.

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There's no way the Celtics confirm this report, because "out for the playoffs" would have to mean out until potentially late June, and despite Boston's tricky start with the Knicks to begin this postseason, and the team's last regular-season swoon, Boston definitely has designs on playing into late June for the third time in four years. So there's no real point in going all out with a statement that puts O'Neal out for good.

And even if the writing is on the wall, and it takes twice as long for someone like O'Neal to return from an injury like this than your typical big man, he still injured that calf on April 1. And April 1 will seem like a long time away by the conference finals or finals if Boston makes it that far. Again, there's no real reason to confirm this report. All Boston GM Danny Ainge can do between now and either the end of the playoffs, or O'Neal's slim chance at a first game, is shrug his shoulders and continue to say, "I don't know," as he's done for the last few weeks.

All while enjoying Jermaine O'Neal's spectacular play on the defensive end. If not the offensive end, where the Boston offense badly misses Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille's ability to screen early in possessions.

(HT: Celtics Blog and Red's Army.)

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