BOSTON (CBS) -- The Boston Celtics will be close to whole again when they host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. It's coming at a great moment for the team to finally start making some moves up the Eastern Conference standings.
Jayson Tatum was back to seeing live action at practice on Tuesday and is set to return Wednesday night following his stint in the NBA's COVID-19 protocol. Enes Freedom also practiced and has been cleared of protocol, while forward Aaron Nesmith is still awaiting negative tests. Boston big man Rob Williams was also on the practice floor Tuesday, and head coach Ime Udoka said that the center was not impeded by the big toe injury that sidelined him Sunday night against the Orlando Magic.
It certainly sounds like the Celtics will have their starting five of Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Williams on Wednesday, a group that has played a whopping 87 minutes together this season. That group has only started eight of Boston's 37 games so far this season.
"We've been good with our starting lineup," Udoka said Tuesday. "It's a start tomorrow and hopefully it continues. We're looking forward to getting the full group back together."
Tatum was hit hard last season after catching COVID-19, and he had to use an inhaler as he regained his wind. It took Tatum a while to regain his form, but he said Tuesday that he feels much better coming out of his second bout with the virus.
"I feel a lot better with everything. My quarantine was shorter, my body feels a lot better, comparing my first couple of days back practicing than last year when I first came back," he said Tuesday. "So that's a positive sign."
Udoka does not think Tatum will need much time at all to return to his usual form.
"He looks good with what he's doing and he's the kind of guy who wants to get right back into his role," said Udoka. "As long as his wind is fine, he can get right back to playing at the level that he was."
This is a great time for the Celtics to get some healthy bodies back, and a golden opportunity for the team to make some moves in the standings. Boston's next five games are all against opponents that are currently under .500, giving the team a chance to climb out of the sub-.500 muck themselves and maybe even show a little something this season.
"Hopefully this next stretch, guys can stay on the court and we can kind of have a nice run," Tatum said Tuesday. "Having everyone healthy and together, hopefully we start playing our best basketball."
Boston's upcoming stretch will see them play five games in seven nights, starting Wednesday night at home against San Antonio. The Spurs are 14-21 on the season, with one of those wins against the C's in San Antonio.
The Celtics, currently 18-19, should be back at .500 when they head to New York for a Thursday night matchup with the Knicks, the first leg of a home-and-home with the 17-20 Knickerbockers. The two teams have split their two matchups so far this season, with each taking a game on their home floor.
After they're done with the Knicks, the Celtics have another home-and-home, this time with the 14-23 Indiana Pacers. That's five straight games against teams lower in the standings than themselves.
If the Celtics can't make headway over the next week, especially with important players returning to the rotation, then president of basketball ops. Brad Stevens won't have a very difficult time picking which path to take at the trade deadline next month.
for more features.