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Kendrick Perkins eyes early February return

01.16.11 at 4:08 pm ET

All of a sudden Kendrick Perkins‘ return from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament has gone from a luxury to a necessity. With Jermaine O’Neal contemplating knee surgery of his own and Shaquille O’Neal a day-to-day proposition, the Celtics depth at center is becoming a concern.

Perkins reached an important milestone Sunday afternoon when he was able to go through an entire practice. He said that he is targeting Feb. 4, when the Celtics play the Mavericks at the Garden as a return date. Without Shaq, who slipped on ice and strained his adductor muscle in his right leg, Perkins returned to his customary position alongside Kevin Garnett in the starting five.

“It did feel good to be out there again,” Perkins said. “We did some good things together. I didn’€™t have a sub today so I was a little tired, but it was cool.”

“Phenomenal,” Doc Rivers said. “He looked great. He’€™s in great shape. Today was the first time all year that we actually had a real first unit on the floor. It was another level because they could run anything they wanted.”

Perkins wasted little time getting his menacing groove back. He leveled Marquis Daniels with a pick, which sent Daniels to the sidelines after his back tightened up. Daniels sat out the rest of practice, but said he thought he would be fine to play Monday against Orlando.

“I hit him on a flat screen,” Perkins said. “I told him, ‘€˜My bad,’€™ but he said it was a good pick so it wasn’€™t illegal, but I did hit him on a flat screen.”

From outward appearances, Perkins looks like he’s in the best shape of his life although there’s a big difference between regular shape and basketball shape, particularly when it comes to conditioning. While he has been out Perkins has lost about eight pounds to get down to 272. The eight pounds may not seem like much, but it makes a big difference for a big man playing on a surgically-repaired knee.

“I was just scared of gaining weight,” Perkins said. “I kind of starved myself a little bit. It was hard. Once they told me I could get in the weight room, I really got in the weight room.”

Despite the brace on his knee, Perkins said he’s not thinking about it while he’s out on the court. “I’€™ve never been scared of injuries or anything like that,” he said. “So, I feel like if it’€™s going to happen, it’€™s going to happen.”

As with all their injured players, the Celtics won’t rush anyone back before they’re ready. While it may be tempting to push Perkins back even quicker if Jermaine O’Neal does have surgery, they won’t go down that road. An early February return would be ambitious enough.

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