WALTHAM, Mass. (ESPNBoston.com) — Celtics guard Avery Bradley remains on track to make his season debut Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, but the news wasn’t as good on Rajon Rondo, who sat out Tuesday’s practice session with a hip bruise and is questionable for the game.
“Just like any other day,” Bradley said before the team’s practice. “I’m going to prepare today, we’re going to go through practice, go over the plays, make sure I know what’s going on. And tomorrow I’m just going to go out there and play as hard as I can, prepare like a regular game day for me.”
Bradley’s ability to handle the ball could help offset the absence of Rondo, if he cannot dress. The Celtics also got Leandro Barbosa back at the end of the road trip after he missed four games while tending to a family matter in his native Brazil.
“We’re just going by how our practice looks. If (Bradley) looks ready to start, he’ll start, he’s a starter,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “But if he doesn’t, we’ll wait. And also, right now, with Rondo and his hip, we don’t even know what Rondo’s going to do. We know we’re not going to practice him today, and not sure if he’ll play tomorrow. That takes on a whole different bit.”
Rondo absorbed a knee to the hip from Matt Barnes while battling on the blocks in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night. He sat out Saturday’s visit to Golden State, then labored through Sunday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings (a game in which he was decidedly outplayed by counterpart Isaiah Thomas).
While Rondo downplayed the severity of the injury while meeting with reporters before practice on Tuesday, he admitted it limited his game.
“When you get beat down the court by a big, you know, it’s frustrating,” said Rondo. “But I’m OK; I’ll be fine. It’s nothing like I need surgery or anything. It’s not that serious. It’s just a bruise.”
Asked if he’d play Wednesday, Rondo said simply, “I hope so.”
Rivers said the team has to decide whether (1) playing Rondo on Wednesday would aggravate the injury and (2) if he would help or hurt the team given the limitations from the ailment. Even Rondo isn’t sure what the right answers are.
“I’ve never had this type of injury. I got kneed on my bone and it’s just been nagging,” he said. “Nothing too serious, but if affects me a little bit. Obviously, my style of play, which is speed, I’m not able to plant as quick as I would like to right now, but I’ve been getting treatment every day.”
Added Rivers: “He couldn’t move much (in Sacramento). We talked after the game, I couldn’t give him the answer whether he was helping or hurting the team with the way he was moving. But you want him on the floor — it’s just a tough call.”
Bradley, whose season ended in May during an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers, required surgery on each shoulder during his offseason. The Celtics brought him back slowly, but he could be thrust right into the starting lineup for Wednesday’s game.
“My teammates are excited, I’m excited,” he said. “I’m pretty sure the fans are excited. We’re just going to go out there and play Celtic basketball tomorrow.”
Any returning-to-action jitters for Bradley?
“No, not really,” he said. “At first I was — as I started to get closer and closer. But now I’ve just been trying to prepare, just focusing more than anything, not getting antsy. Just knowing my dates and where I need to be, when I touched those dates, and that’s been my main focus right now.”
Many have pegged Bradley as a potential savior for a struggling Boston squad that’s lost its familiar brand of defense. Bradley will aid the search for defensive consistency, but he again downplayed his ability to individually right this ship.
“I try not to worry about (expectations),” said Bradley. “All you can do is go out there and play hard and that’s what I’m going to do. That’s all I know, that’s how I play. So just go out there and leave everything out on the floor and tomorrow that’s what you guys will see.”
Rivers said any increased expectations on the team’s third-year guard are merely a media creation.
“We’re not doing that; that’s you guys,” Rivers said to reporters. “So, ‘No,’ would be the answer. I haven’t said to our team one time, ‘Guys, when Avery comes back …’ So that’s from outside the gym, that’s not from within the gym.”
When a follow-up question asked about how Bradley’s on-ball defense could aid the team’s ability to limit dribble penetration, Rivers playfully pounced.
“It sounds like you’re putting too much on Avery, not me. My gosh,” Rivers said with a smile. “He takes away with his guy, unfortunately, there’s four other guys on the floor. Avery’s probably top five in the league in on-ball defense as far as pressure and not getting beat, the problem is there are four other guys on the floor at the same time. But if you can stop one of the guards from dribble penetrating, you’re right, it has to help.”
Bradley elected to stay home from the recently concluded four-game road trip in order to maximize his on-court time, knowing the team had locked him into a return on Wednesday night.
“I knew I wasn’t going to play,” said Bradley. “I knew if I went on the trip there would have been pressure to play, so it was just a decision I decided to make. We had our dates already set up and it was for me to come back the second, so I stuck with it, and all I did was stay here and work out every single day so I could prepare for the game tomorrow.”
Now he’s simply focused on not overdoing it during his first game back.
“There’s a possibility it could happen, me going out there, running all over the place, but I try not to worry about it,” said Bradley. “Just go out there and play my game.”
The Celtics have lost three straight — all by 18 points or more — as part of a disastrous finish to a four-game road trip. Eager to get back on the right track — and stay on the right track — the urge would be to have the team’s best players on the court for the start of a brief two-game homestand.