Illness keeps Jermaine O'Neal out

12/23/2010 - NBA Jermaine O'Neal Boston Celtics + more

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal, who had hoped to return to the active roster as early as Wednesday night, missed his 19th consecutive game, this time due to what coach Doc Rivers called an illness.

O'Neal, sidelined since the second half of a loss Nov. 8 to the Dallas Mavericks with lingering left knee soreness, had participated in consecutive practice sessions, including one on Tuesday.

But Rivers said O'Neal is battling flu-like symptoms and instead will eye Saturday's nationally televised Christmas showdown with the Orlando Magic for his return.

"I think he'll play next game, hopefully," Rivers said. "He's just not feeling well -- the flu. I think he would have played tonight [if not for the illness]... He just needs to get minutes. He's ready. I don't know how much we'll play him even when he comes back, but he'll be in uniform -- hopefully on Christmas."

Fortunately for Boston, Shaquille O'Neal was in the starting lineup, making his second consecutive start after missing four games with soreness in his right calf. He scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Rookie center Semih Erden, limited by a groin pull in Sunday's win over Indiana, also was feeling better and saw his minutes ramped back up against the 76ers.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.