Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Being an NBA follower means being promised many things, chief among them is the supposed return status regarding the big men that wander the paint down low. Name an injured center, and the "target date" and "expected to practice" and "close to returning" benchmarks swirl around your head. Most of the time, these things end in basketball-related heartbreak. So it goes when dealing with the feet, knees and ankles charged with somehow supporting those massive frames.

After an injury-plagued year that saw Shaquille O'Neal(notes) manage just 37 games for the Boston Celtics, and after a playoff run full of shrugged shoulders regarding his return, we have the most declarative statement yet regarding O'Neal's comeback from various injuries (the most recent being an Achilles strain).

A. Sherrod Blakely of (via Pro Basketball Talk).

For the first time since he re-aggravated the right calf/Achilles injury against Detroit on April 3, [Boston coach Doc] Rivers actually has a definitive drop-dead date for O'Neal to suit up for the C's.

"He's getting very close," Rivers said. "We actually had to make a decision (on whether he would play) today. So that's better than what we've had to do in the past."

Rivers added that O'Neal may play in Game 2 on Tuesday, and "for sure in Game 3."

"For sure," eh?

And how does this actually affect the Celtics, who looked like a clear No. 2 to the Heat during the first game of the teams' series on Sunday?

Kurt Helin mentions as much in his post about the subject. Though O'Neal won't be putting up gaudy box score numbers if he returns, his ability to screen off someone like Joel Anthony(notes) could provide a huge boon for Boston's offense. The Celtics had their best spacing of the season when O'Neal was in the defense's way, allowing Rajon Rondo(notes) to pick apart opposing defenses with his bounce passes. Currently, Rondo is slumping (his turnovers and poor decisions with the ball hampered each of Boston's attempts at a comeback in Game 1 against Miami) and the Celtics offense is hurting, but O'Neal could change all that without even taking a shot.

Or, we could just be prolonging the inevitable retirement. We'll see in Game 3.

(So we've been promised.)

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