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Danny Ainge: Shaquille O’Neal ‘is going to play Sunday or Tuesday’

03.31.11 at 5:16 pm ET

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge joined The Big Show for his weekly interview on Thursday afternoon. Ainge was first asked about the status of Shaquille O’Neal. Doc Rivers indicated earlier on Thursday that O’Neal’s achilles injury could be a problem in the postseason.

“I was just with Shaq, we were just working out down in Waltham,” said Ainge. “Shaq is either going to play Sunday or Tuesday. ‘€¦ I think that Doc probably — “bleed into the playoffs” — I think is something different than he’s not going to play until the playoffs. But it looks like he’s ready to go Sunday or Tuesday.”

Jermaine O’Neal — sidelined since January 12 after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee — is scheduled to make his return to the lineup Thursday vs. the Spurs. Ainge feels both O’Neal centers must be playing key minutes for the Celtics to make a run in the postseason.

“First of all, there’s a couple of things,” Ainge said. “With Shaq on the court this year, in the games he started for us, our offense and our defense has been better than it’s been for four years. That tells you how important Shaq is, how important his presence is alone. Second of all, Jermaine has been — in limited minutes — he has been the best defensive center on our team this entire season. So that tells you a little bit about what they’ve been able to do in Jermaine’s limited time and Shaq has played some significant minutes. That tells you all right there.”

The Celtics have struggled mightily as of late, losing seven of its last 12 games. Ainge dismissed the notion that the slump is a result of the trade that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma State.

“There’s been some discussion, I’ve been asked a lot about the emotional element of the team. We won five in a row after the trade. There was no emotional element, the team was playing great. ‘€¦ I think our big four have all had a drop-off in the 12-game stretch. I don’t know [why], it just happens. Rondo and KG have had the biggest significant drop, and Paul and Ray have stayed at a fairly high level but not as high as they did in the first 50 games. The only player playing better since the trade have been Kristic and Jeff Green.

“Our defense, from the time of the trade to the time before the trade, has not waned at all,” continued Ainge. “Our defense numbers are almost identical. Our offense has gone from being the best field-goal percentage team in the league — in a decade in the first 45 games of the year — to being 20th in the league this year. To me, it’s still KG hanse;t been talking as many shots. KG is not demanding the ball. And I know he’s going to do that, I know he’s going to do that more.”

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