Celtics’ Walker set to play 20 minutes in return

Boston Celtics star Kemba Walker will make his season debut Sunday afternoon against the New York Knicks.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker, who has been out since the end of last season due to an ongoing strengthening program for his left knee, will play about 20 minutes.

“Right around there,” Stevens said before the game. “We’re not asking him to be anything other than Kemba Walker.

“Obviously he’s excited to play. He’s ready to play. They’ve put in a lot of work to get to this point, and we’re looking forward to having him out there.”

Walker’s knee has been ailing him for a calendar year. He struggled with it before last season was stopped in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and then was limited by it when Boston returned to play in the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, over the summer.

After Boston lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, Walker received an injection in the knee. He began a 12-week strengthening program in early October that ended earlier this month.

Since then, Walker has slowly been ramping up his workload — a process that hit a snag because of Boston’s recent issues with COVID-19, as Robert Williams III and Jayson Tatum tested positive and several other players were in contact tracing. As a result, along with the Heat dealing with their own situation, Boston had three games postponed last week before returning to the court for a win over the Orlando Magic on Friday.

“Very little,” Stevens said, when asked how much Walker has practiced with his teammates. “But he’s done a lot with, prior to our mini shutdown last week, he got in a lot with coaches. [Then he] increased his work each day throughout that period. … Not probably your typical practice, but they feel really good about where he is and he feels really good about where he is.”

The Celtics enter Sunday at 8-3, putting them in the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But, predictably, Stevens wasn’t interested in discussing what has allowed his team to have such early success.

“Yeah, that’s meaningless, 11 games in, where you are in the conference,” Stevens said. “I mean, that can flip in one week. You can be out of the top 10 pretty easily. We’re just trying to get better.

“The reality is we haven’t been any version of a top team from a statistical standpoint. But we’re 4-2 in close games, so the difference between heading into last Friday night 5-5 and 7-3 is just flipping a couple of close games. We have to be better. We have to get a lot better in a lot of ways. But you know, where you stand right now, 11 games in, is meaningless.”

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