(Edit: The Celtics lost at Chicago Tuesday, so the Hawks clinched the third seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Heat beats New Jersey at home tonight, then the Hawks would face the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. If the Heat loses and the Bucks win at Boston tonight, then the Hawks would face the Heat. If both the Heat and Bucks lose, then the Hawks would face the Bucks.)
So Shaq is cleared to play for the first time since Feb. 25 but that doesn’t mean he will return against the Hawks. Coach Mike Brown is tempted to play LeBron James, too, but that doesn’t mean he will give in:
“They probably wouldn’t play the whole game on Wednesday, so are we going to be that much better because they played 20 minutes together?” Brown said. “Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I keep going back and forth.”
If you’re wondering why Brown would even consider sending out either guy when the Cavs long ago clinched homecourt for eternity, the AP story sums it up nicely:
The Cavaliers have made major adjustments to their starting lineup twice this season—both spawned losing streaks. They lost their first two games of the season while working in newcomers O’Neal, (Jamario) Moon and Anthony Parker. They lost their first two with Antawn Jamison after he was acquired from Washington at the trade deadline.
Cleveland doesn’t have time for extended losing streaks in the playoffs while working O’Neal back into the rotation. The starting lineup Cleveland plans to use for the playoffs—Parker, James, Jamison, O’Neal and Mo Williams—were together for just three full games before O’Neal tore a ligament in his thumb on Feb. 25.
After the Hawks beat Milwaukee last night, Woody said he was inclined to send out his full lineup. But if the Celtics lose tonight and thus can’t catch the Hawks for the third seed, he’d have to reconsider, right? There’s the idea of taking momentum into the playoffs and also ending that nine-game losing steak to the Cavs, but the former is overrated and the latter wouldn’t mean very much if LeBron and/or Shaq doesn’t play.
Stay tuned, Hawks fans.
– I asked Mo about a DraftExpress.com Twitter post about him likely opting out of the $2.5 million he’s due on his contract next year:
“Obviously my focus right now is on the playoffs, and I’m excited about where we are headed as a team and looking forward to it. At the same time I’m excited about the possibilities of this summer. I’ve been on six different playoff teams where I’ve made an impact.”
Translation: Of course he will opt out. Why wouldn’t he? There certainly will be a market for a reasonably-priced player who might be undersized for forward but who can defend, likes to mix it up inside and has no fear of taking big shots. Mo, 31, most likely can get a longer deal on the market, if not from the Hawks.
– Ken S. sent me a link for discounted playoff tickets the other day. I never got the chance to check it out to see if it’s legit and forgot about it (sorry) but I see super commenter Najeh Davenpoop and others also have found the deal. It must be for real, so here it is.