Let’s pretend Shaq’s really not hurt. Let’s pretend, as Gerry Callahan insists, he’s simply “the most accomplished actor in NBA history” and “pacing himself, picking his spots and giving himself the best chance to be ready for the playoffs.” Let’s pretend there are 17 games left in the regular season and Shaq does not have any intentions of getting into game shape by the playoffs, so he’s sitting games out for now.
Can you just please tell me why?
“Last night at New Jersey didn’t matter,” wrote Callahan. Ah, right. I forgot. It’s not like the Celtics fell into a tie with the Chicago Bulls after last night’s defeat. It’s not like the Bulls have a cupcake schedule the rest of the season, and now have the inside track on the number one seed. It’s not like the Bulls scare the living bejesus out of any Celtic fan who knows basketball. It’s not like Chicago’s home record is 29-4. Hold on. Yes, they did, or yes, they are, or yes, they do. On all accounts.
“This team has nothing to prove until the playoffs,” wrote Callahan, which is actually true, no sarcasm involved this time. But they do have something to earn — a number one seed, home-court advantage at least until the Finals, and the right to play Orlando (rather than Miami) in round two.
“The commissioner might not like it, but the Celtics should treat the next 17 games like practice,” wrote Callahan. Does he not realize the lack of home-court advantage killed Boston last season at the worst possible time? Does he not realize Boston bucked every trend in NBA history during last postseason, and that it’s unlikely to happen ever again? Does he not realize how dangerous the Eastern Conference could be, especially now that the Heat have regained their mojo?
Now, let’s talk about Shaq as if he might actually be injured — which makes at least a little sense, considering he has missed every game for the past month and change, and was spotted wearing a walking boot in Boston’s locker room on at least one occasion. If you were getting yourself ready for the playoffs (even if you were 39 years old and the size of a Redwood tree), wouldn’t you want to get yourself into game shape first? We’ve all seen how long Troy Murphy has taken to get himself back into game shape, after missing a month… and he’s a 30-year old who is entirely healthy. Granted, Shaq does not need the same mobility Murphy does, because he’s so freaking ginormous. But game shape doesn’t come quickly, even if you spend hours on the treadmill each day. Playing in an NBA game is different, as any player who has returned from injury will tell you.
So no, the Celtics should not treat the next 17 games like practice. No, I don’t believe Shaq is just resting himself for the playoffs. At this point of the season, with so little time left before the playoffs, that theory hardly makes sense. If he wanted to get ready for the playoffs, playing in games seems like the most reasonable route. No?
Even if he is sitting out simply to rest his legs (which is certainly possible; I don’t claim to know everything), don’t let Gerry Callahan — or anyone else — tell you these games mean nothing. The prospect of playing Miami and then Chicago was already scary enough, and now the Celtics might have to do it sans home-court advantage.