BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics wrap up their eight-game preseason schedule Wednesday evening with a visit from the New Jersey Nets. And, for the eighth straight game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers won't have his full lineup available.
In a season in which every bit of Boston's success is tagged with an "if they stay healthy" disclaimer, the Celtics will complete their entire preseason slate without ever boasting their full complement of players.
Rivers seemed somewhat frustrated by that prospect after Tuesday's open practice session for season-ticket holders at TD Garden, particularly while discussing how Jermaine O'Neal is unlikely to play in Wednesday's game.
O'Neal has only appeared in four games, logging about 15 minutes per contest.
"Jermaine won't play [Wednesday], it doesn't look like," Rivers said. When pressed on the severity of the injuries affecting O'Neal, Rivers said only that his hand and back were bothering him.
"He didn't do anything today," Rivers added. "That's rest; that's injury. It's disappointing, to be honest. He has not had the preseason that we would have liked him to have had. Sometimes you just can't avoid it."
The Celtics haven't been able to avoid the injury bug over the past two seasons, starting with Kevin Garnett's injured knee late in the 2008-09 season, followed by an injury-filled 2009-10 campaign that culminated with Kendrick Perkins' knee injury in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Now, in addition to Perkins being sidelined until midseason, the Celtics have been hindered by small but nagging injuries as the regular season nears.
Rookie Avery Bradley remains sidelined indefinitely with a sore left ankle. The Celtics are going so far as to evaluate his rehab program with eyes toward making a change that will help Bradley overcome the lingering soreness and stay on the court after a preseason of starts and stops. He has appeared in only three games, logging more than two minutes only twice.
Meanwhile, guard Delonte West has appeared in only three games, limited by a left glute injury that the team originally thought was back spasms. Not only does West have to get reacquainted with an old system, he'll be forced to miss the first 10 games of the season because of a suspension. He'd been planning on utilizing the preseason to catch up.
Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson both had sore shoulders this past weekend; Glen Davis sat out a game in New York with a sore knee; and Shaquille O'Neal admitted he downshifted for three games, resting his 38-year-old body with eyes toward the regular season.
And then there's Jermaine O'Neal. After tweaking his left hamstring early in the preseason, O'Neal missed three games while allowing it to heal. Now he's back on the shelf.
After much discussion about which O'Neal would begin the season as the starter in Perkins' place, it seems extremely likely Shaq will get the nod. Even as The Big Shamrock stressed Tuesday night that he remains open to any role that will help his new team, Jermaine O'Neal's inability for to stay on the floor this preseason -- coupled with some offensive struggles that he's still ironing out -- has made the decision simple.
One season after juggling lineups in order to limit his players' minutes and obtain as close to full health as possible by the end of the regular season, Rivers could be looking at more of the same, at least as the new season begins.
Rivers came out looking like a genius for his ability to balance all the injuries Boston endured last season, but even he admitted it was his team's only choice. One that he prefers not to make again this season.
"Last year forced our hand," Rivers said. "It wasn't planned like that, but injuries forced us to do what we did."
What the Celtics did was play .500 ball over the final 54 games of the regular season, then leaned heavily on a shortened rotation in the postseason and made a charge to the NBA Finals.
It finally caught up with them in Games 6 and 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers, particularly when Perkins went down.
Rivers says that's no recipe for success this season. Especially not in a bulked-up Eastern Conference. No, these Celtics can't settle for a fourth seed and expect to make another charge at Banner 18.
Which means they can't afford to lean on their starters as much as they did at times last season. Boston needs a healthy bench. Something it just doesn't have quite yet.
"I think we're going to deal with that all year, that would be my guess," Rivers said. "I don't think we're going to be a team that's healthy all year, I can almost guarantee that. But that's why our bench is so important.
"We need our bench this year in order to get to the playoffs. If we have to log heavy minutes during the regular season for Paul, Kevin and Ray, then, honestly, I don't know if it would bode well for us in the playoffs. And to think that Shaq and JO will be healthy for 82 games -- I'm hoping that's the case, but I'm not going to count on that. We're going to need guys to fill in.
"That's the problem with the East, you've still got to win games and that's what we're going to have to do."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.