Udonis Haslem was on the court three hours before tipoff Sunday, putting himself through a workout with hopes of getting into the Miami Heat lineup. Shaquille O'Neal walked around the Boston Celtics locker room in a pair of game shorts, sparking some speculation that he was ready to play.
Close — but not quite, on both counts.
The big-man duo from Miami's 2006 NBA title team remained sidelined Sunday for Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics matchup in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Haslem has not played since Nov. 20 because of a ruptured ligament in his left foot, and O'Neal has been limited to 37 games this season because of nagging leg problems.
"There was some thought about him," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Haslem. "It was one of the more difficult decisions I've had to make. Objectively, he's not quite there. He is making great strides, so we have to be patient and evaluate this objectively, not on the timeline of when the series starts."
Haslem went through such a workout Sunday that even the ballboy who was rebounding for him was dripping with sweat when it was over. Haslem said he had to prepare to play, even though he acknowledged that he wasn't certain he could convince the Heat that he's ready to return.
"I'm trying," he said as he left the floor. "It's not up to me. I'm just working to get ready."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was amused when hearing that O'Neal appeared in the locker room wearing the uniform shorts. If O'Neal was trying to change Rivers' mind, he doubly failed: Rivers didn't even see him in part of the uniform.
"Suit and tie status today," Rivers said.
O'Neal missed 33 of Boston's final 34 regular-season games, and the one exception was inglorious. He played 5½ minutes against Detroit on April 3, making all three of his shots before pulling up lame and limping into the locker room in obvious pain.
The Celtics have waited patiently, and Rivers said that may pay off.
"He's getting very close," Rivers said. "Honestly, we had to actually make a decision today, so that's better than what we had to do in the past. So he's getting close. Maybe next game. If not, I would say Game 3."
"He knows this team," Rivers said. "He was in their training camp. He was in their practices. He knows their personnel. So I just thought he may be able to help us in some way."
Miami made no changes to its active roster from what it used in the first round against Philadelphia, with Dexter Pittman and former starting center Erick Dampier joining Haslem on the inactive list. Avery Bradley was also inactive for Boston, joining O'Neal and Pavlovic.