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Marcus Smart unsure if he’ll return before All-Star break

Marcus Smart is taking his time with his right ankle injury and won’t return before the all-star break if he’s not healthy.

Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

BOSTON — Marcus Smart felt a fiery pain through his right ankle when he fell injured in Toronto earlier this month. He motioned to the bench and knew right away he wouldn’t return to the game.

Sitting out the following four games already paid off for Smart, who said at practice on Tuesday he’s already feeling better than he did this far out from injuring the same ankle in the preseason. He hasn’t returned to the floor yet and suffered a bone bruise, but is satisfied with the progress he achieved already. Robert Williams III, also out with an ankle sprain he suffered against the Knicks, continued treating it on Tuesday. Mazzulla said it’s possible he returns on Wednesday.

“The beauty, it’s a longer season, don’t have to rush, so we’re just taking it day-by-day ... they’re very small improvements at this point, but improvements nonetheless,” Smart said. “I’m just trying to wait for it to heal a little more, because of the bone bruise and things like that are going on with it. I don’t want to go out there and put too much pressure on it early and now we’re starting back at day one.”

Smart watched the Celtics lose three straight games in his absence and nearly drop a fourth on Saturday if referees called a last-second foul on Jayson Tatum. Boston escaped, a credit to Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown’s scoring away from the pressure defenses placed on Tatum. Derrick White re-entered the starting lineup trying to maintain consistent spacing around double-bigs, something Joe Mazzulla admitted they’re struggling with.

Boston outscored opponents by two total points with Smart off the floor in his absence, down from +112 through the Raptors game while he sat. The Celtics leaned into Tatum minutes, over 38 per game this month, to alleviate pressure on the offense, which ranks 26th since Smart went down. Mazzulla defended the decision, again blaming overtime.

“Maybe when you go through something and learn how to navigate it, you’re better when you get back,” Mazzulla said. “I think his natural approach to how do you sustain a level of energy and a level of healthiness throughout the entire season. So I trust how he takes care of his body, I trust the people around him and I trust everything he does. Will there be moments where we have to cut his minutes down? Yes, absolutely.”

“I’m not in favor of playing guys until they can’t play anymore. At the same time, I trust his work ethic and I trust the people around him to think that he took what he learned from the Finals and was able to apply that in his summer works, in his preseason workouts and in his daily approach to how he takes care of himself.”

The Celtics face the Nets on Wednesday and Suns on Friday after a three-day break, going through a practice session on Tuesday after the NBA named Mazzulla the head coach of Team Giannis due to Boston’s best record in the east through the season’s first half. Smart will sit those games out before he gains a better idea of his timeline, which will weigh the benefit of playing a few games before the break against sitting out through its entirety.

If the injury occurred in the playoffs, Smart pictured himself playing through it the night it happened. He’s not placing any pressure on himself to return in the regular season, especially since the ailment lingered into training camp when he last suffered it in May.

Boston plays eight more games until the break over the next 15 days, Smart already sat for 10 and waiting until the break would accumulate 33 days until his next game, compared to 24 if he comes back for the Bucks game on Feb. 14 on the front end of the back-to-back entering the break.

“We haven’t made any decisions like that yet,” Smart said. “Right now, we’re taking it one day at a time. It’s one of those things where if I’m feeling good enough to get out there, I’ll be out there. If not, then there’s no need to try to get out for a game or two when we’ve got all-star coming up. I’ll probably know in the next couple of games whether or not that’s the case.”

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