MIAMI -- Boston Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal tested his injured right knee on Wednesday in practice, but coach Doc Rivers said it's too early to tell if he will play against the Miami Heat on Thursday.
After missing five straight games, O'Neal, sporting two oversized black knee braces with protective casing near the fibula on both sides, returned to the practice court for the first time Wednesday hoping to gauge his ability to play. He lasted the entire session and departed with a Shaq-sized ice wrap over the tender right knee. The Celtics will evaluate his progress at Thursday's morning shootaround.
Rivers is also not sure if fellow big man Jermaine O'Neal will suit up for the Eastern Conference blockbuster. He's been nursing a sore knee.
At least one of the O'Neals has played in every game this season, but never both. Jermaine O'Neal looked like a longer shot to play since he sat out practice Wednesday.
"No, I have no idea [about Thursday]," Rivers said before practice. "J.O. will not practice [Wednesday] and Shaq's going to try to do a little bit today to test it. I would say likely neither [will play Thursday], maybe our first adventure into the no-big world. But we'll see. Maybe both. Who knows?"
Jermaine O'Neal indicated he's feeling better after knee soreness forced him to sit out the second half of Monday's loss in Dallas, but he said he wouldn't know his status for Thursday until after the team's morning shootaround on game day.
"I'm feeling better," said Jermaine O'Neal. "It's a little better than it was [Tuesday]. I'm just trying to gauge the pain factor. I'll know [Thursday morning], it won't be a game-time decision for me. It may even be after shootaround. We're just trying to figure out what's actually happening -- why the knee is all of a sudden swelling.
"I think it could be a situation where, I did have a procedure done, basically I didn't take time off after the procedure and kind of aggravated it."
While certainly not ideal, the Celtics knew when signing the O'Neals that this might happen because both players are getting older. When faced with this possibility last week, Rivers suggested the Celtics might start rookie center Semih Erden, so as not to alter Glen Davis' role off the bench. While not tipping his hand, it's something the team could consider again if neither O'Neal can dress.
"We knew that before the year, if we were honest with ourselves,"
Rivers said. "I actually told [the media] that there will be games, and I honestly believed it, but was hoping [the Celtics could avoid the injuries], and that we wouldn't have either guy. It's just what it is. We're trying to get Semih as many minutes as possible. When [the O'Neals] are both healthy and both playing, we're really good. We just haven't had that this year. So for us, we have to get through it. Obviously, it's a little earlier than we anticipated, but we're prepared for it."
Shaquille O'Neal admitted his decision might be based on whether Jermaine O'Neal can dress. Both players have pushed themselves back into activity when it's clear the other one can't go. And while it's simply Game No. 9 of 82, Thursday's showdown with the Heat in front of a national audience certainly might force both O'Neals to consider playing through the pain.
Elsewhere on the injury front, Rivers indicated Rajon Rondo and his plantar fasciitis remain a focus, but less of a concern given the extra time off around games (and a three-day break looming after Saturday's road-trip finale in Memphis).
"We just gotta manage his foot," Rivers said. "Just gotta be careful with it."
Reserve guard Delonte West, who is nearing the end of his 10-game suspension, did not join the team in Miami. He's eligible to return when the Celtics host the Wizards next Wednesday at the TD Garden. Boston explored the idea of bringing him down to work out on off-days, but ultimately left him home with at least two days of practice next week before his 2010-11 debut.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.