Celtics veteran O’Neal returning to lineup

For Spurs starters Tony Parker, Antonio McDyess and Manu Ginobili, the prospect of returning to the lineup for tonight’s game against the Boston Celtics could be as simple as lacing up their sneakers.

For Boston’s Jermaine O’Neal, just finding the bus to the arena could be a problem.

“I can’t remember the last time I was on the team bus,” the Celtics center said after surviving a two-hour practice at the ATT Center on Tuesday afternoon, his first full workout in nearly three months.

O’Neal last played on Jan. 10, when he logged 21 minutes in a game in Boston against the Houston Rockets. A free-agent signee of the Celtics last summer, O’Neal has appeared in only 17 games this season because of problems with his left knee.

He tried to play through the pain through the first two months of the season but agreed to arthroscopic surgery in January.

The Celtics’ plan to have O’Neal close to game shape and rhythm by the time the playoffs begin, and that process will begin with tonight’s game.

“He had a good practice,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He missed shots and all that stuff, but overall, I thought he was terrific. I’m going to start him and play him 40 minutes.”

The part about starting and playing 40 minutes was a joke, and O’Neal laughed at it himself.

“Today I felt pretty good, but tomorrow I know I’m going to be gassed,” he said.

DUNCAN PRACTICES: Wednesday marked Tim Duncan’s first time on the practice court since spraining his left ankle March 21 against Golden State. Duncan received positive reviews, though coach Gregg Popovich pronounced the 13-time All-Star a game-time decision.

Parker reported his longest-tenured teammate was beginning to look like his old self.

“We have to see how he’s going to react tomorrow and if there’s no swelling,” Parker said. “Hopefully, he can go.”

BUMP, SET, SPIKE: Popovich has agreed to allow Parker to return to the lineup after missing the Portland game with a left patella contusion. He made just one request of his fashion-conscious point guard, which was ultimately rebuffed.

“I wanted to give him some of those volleyball knee pads,” Popovich said. “It was uncool, he said.”

MR. ROGERS RETURNS: Celtics assistant coach Roy Rogers looked forward to renewing his ties with his former University of Alabama teammate, McDyess.

“I can’t pass up an off night in San Antonio without making ‘Dyess buy dinner for me, and I’m not talking Applebee’s,” Rogers said. “He’s going to have to reach pretty deep into that wallet.”

Rogers got his coaching start with the Spurs’ NBA D-League team, the Austin Toros, before landing a job on Lawrence Franks’ New Jersey Nets staff in 2008. After Franks was hired to replace Tom Thibodeau on Rivers’ staff, he recommended Rogers be hired to work with Boston’s big men.

Staff writer Jeff McDonald contributed to this report.

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