Kendrick Perkins has February 4th circled on his calendar as the day he returns to the lineup of a resilient yet bruised Celtic team. Reiteration has never been needed when it comes to the importance of Perkins to this team. Doc Rivers has said time and time again, most notably after the gut wrenching loss in Game 7 to that snake and his llama, the starting five of Gang Green (the real one, not the ones who play footsy) has never lost a series in the playoffs. Never. Call that an excuse to smooth over defeat, but as Perk said in Episode Two of The Association, he took it personally watching Pau Gasol record 18 rebounds without him standing in the way.
Although we can’t expect Perkins to come back with his usual vigor, we can start to get a feel for what the Celtics, barring further injuries, will be like with their starters in tact. There is no doubt that Delonte West, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal will be necessary come April, but we’ve seen what they can do this year. Delonte will be the anchor for the second unit, pushing Nate to a role he is more comfortable with at the 2 spot (shooting guard). Nate can be an explosive scorer but playing the point and seeing the court distract him and handicap his abilities. Delonte is a veteran on a mission to prove his worth. Shaq has been incredible and we can expect that consistency if he’s healthy. A large presence in the paint, six more fouls to commit against Dwight Howard and some offensive contributions. Jermaine O’Neal remains a huge question mark. Either way, you can never have a surplus when it comes to veterans and big men on the bench. Period.
So, February 4th it begins. Perkins (if on his schedule) comes back as the C’s start a home stand (with one road game smashed in there…why, NBA?) that includes the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. Huge tests that, win or lose, will let us know how the teams matchup closer to the postseason. The previous loss to Dallas and Christmas Day in Orlando mean nothing and the wins against Miami were on the cusp of Pat Riley figuring things out. The important thing is that the C’s stay healthy and hungry. As of today the Celtics are 13-6 against plus .500 teams. As we watched them sink against a “lowly” Wizards team last night we learn that all games carry the same connotation. It’s competition, losing is not acceptable no matter who the opponent is.
It speaks loud when you lose to a lesser opponent but it echoes much longer when you beat a rival potential playoff (let’s call it positively) team. I know I can’t wait until Perk gets back and even more so until I see this team without anyone having to be nursed to the finish line.
Also, The Association has been incredible thus far. I never thought I’d come to love Shaquille O’Neal so much. Much better than Hard Knocks, in my humble opinion.