Philadelphia (40-37) at Boston (53-23)

By JEFF BARTL, STATS Writer Monday, Apr 4, 2011 Tipoff: 7:30 pm EDT Tue Apr 5, 2011

The Boston Celtics could face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. Whether each team will have a key contributor available remains to be seen.

The Celtics have again lost Shaquille O’Neal(notes), while Louis Williams(notes) won’t be on the floor for the Sixers when they visit TD Garden on Tuesday night.

O’Neal returned Sunday after missing more than two months with a strained left Achilles’, but he limped off in the second quarter with a strained right calf. O’Neal, who managed six points in just over five minutes of the 101-90 win over Detroit, could be shut down for the rest of the regular season.

With limited depth at center due to injuries to Jermaine O’Neal(notes) and Nenad Krstic(notes), the Celtics (53-23) desperately need the 39-year-old’s inside presence as they gear up for the playoffs.

“I don’t know what to do, honestly,” Rivers said when asked if O’Neal should sit out the remaining six games. “My inclination is not, because he needs to play.”

Jermaine O’Neal has played limited minutes in three games after missing the previous 36 with a nagging knee injury.

“We have to have one of the O’Neals,” Rivers said. “And then Krstic has to be healthy. If we have that, we have size.”

Kevin Garnett(notes) stepped up Sunday and scored a team-high 23 points for the Celtics, who are in third place in the Eastern Conference, one-half game behind Miami and three back of Chicago.

Boston has won two of three meetings with Philadelphia this season, with those games decided by a combined eight points.

The 76ers won the most recent matchup 89-86 on March 11 to avoid a four-game losing streak in the series. Boston has taken 12 of the last 15 meetings.

While the Celtics won’t have O’Neal, the Sixers (40-37) will be without Williams, their top reserve who is third on the team with 13.7 points per game.

The guard strained his right hamstring during a 93-87 overtime loss to Milwaukee on Saturday and did not return. The team said he will be out for the foreseeable future.

The 76ers are in sixth place in the East, 1 1/2 games ahead of seventh-place New York with five remaining.

Philadelphia evidently missed Williams as it blew a 12-point lead against the Bucks and failed to win a season high-tying fourth straight.

“I talked to our guys a little bit about it. I said, ‘That’s what playoff basketball is going to be about. They’re going to know all of our plays,”’ coach Doug Collins said. “I know we picked it up back up in the fourth quarter. It’s a shame we couldn’t find a basket late in the game. We just couldn’t make one.”

The Sixers have dropped four of their last five games at Boston.

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