There’s no more time for sitting starters and there’s no more optional practices. Doc Rivers  knows full well that while it may not be time to slam the foot on the accelerator, now is the time to start stepping down with more force.
On Thursday, following a 112-102 glorified exhibition win over the Knicks, Rivers began prep for the first-round playoffs series with the Knicks with film work. The hard practices are expected on Friday and Saturday – with or without Shaquille O’Neal .
‘I feel good that our team will be ready; I feel really good about that,” Rivers said. “This has been far more difficult in that regard because of the trades, the injuries, the late-season seven-out-of-eleven games. It’s just been ‘ that’s been extremely difficult. We lost our rhythm; had no practice to get it back, and then we had injuries.
“So, it’s great playing on Sunday, let me just put it that way. We’ll be ready.’
As for Delonte West  (ankle) and Shaq (calf), Rivers said this weekend of practice will tell a lot.
‘Well Delonte will be [ready] for sure, from everything I hear,” Rivers said. “Shaquille, I’d like to see him yesterday. We’ll just wait and see.’
Obviously, this has been the most injury-riddled season for Celtics  big men – or bigs as Doc loves to call them. And it’s started from camp and carried right through. Say this much, the C’s and Rivers and his coaching staff have had plenty of time this season to get ready to win without them.
There was the rehabbing Kendrick Perkins  in camp and early in the season. There was the conditioning of Jermaine O’Neal . There was the knee/hip/Achilles/calf of Shaq. And the brief injury scares to Glen Davis  and Perkins’ replacement Nenad Krstic .
‘Well hopefully all that’s gone, and now we can focus on just playing,” Rivers said. “I think hopefully in some ways ‘ not easier, but easier to focus clearly. I think this is what our guys have been playing for all year. You know, when you lose a Game 7 it sticks with you and that’s very difficult to get back through the regular season because the whole season you’re thinking about, ‘Gosh, we’ve got to go through 82 of these just to have a chance go get back to where we were at last year’ and now all that part is gone. And now we can start trying to get back to, and finish the job.’
And that job begins Sunday night when Rivers expects the nicked up Amar’e Stoudemire to be ready for duty for the Knicks and Game 1 after playing 20 minutes Wednesday as a final tuneup.
‘He’s fine,” Rivers said. “I mean, he was just trying to get his rhythm; hadn’t played in a game, you could see. I mean, I actually enjoy whenever I see guys like that in games like this. Not from a strategical standpoint; we call them ‘ballers.’ Some guys just like playing. If we had a vote, Paul [Pierce ] would’ve played. It’s in their blood. They just love playing. I think Amar’e is in that category too. He’s just a baller.’