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The Boston Celtics are about to add a key contributor back to their rotation. After missing 18 straight games due to a left calf strain, veteran guard Marcus Smart expects to return to game action against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night. Smart participated in full 5-on-5 practice with his teammates on Wednesday and he felt positive about his progress. 

"I feel great. Today was my first day to really get out there and play 5-on-5, take contact and press it to the limit," Smart said to media members. "Felt really good. … I intend on playing in the game tomorrow."  

Smart hasn't played in a game since Jan. 30, and after such a long layoff he will have a minutes restriction upon his return as he works to get his wind and conditioning back up. How many minutes Smart will play isn't set in stone, but it will ultimately be up to Celtics coach Brad Stevens in conjunction with Boston's training staff. "I know Marcus said he's good to go, but I haven't discussed specifics with [the training staff] yet," Stevens said on Wednesday.   

Regardless of how many minutes he plays early on, it's safe to say that the Celtics will be happy to have Smart back in the rotation, as they struggled mightily in his absence. Coming out of the All-Star break the Celtics are fourth in the East with a record of 19-17, and they went just 9-9 in the 18 games that Smart missed. Smart's intensity on the defensive end and his offensive production were clearly missed. On the season, Smart is averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 assists per game -- both career highs. He's also added 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals per performance.  

Though the current campaign hasn't gone super smoothly for Boston so far, they will have a chance to make a real run in the second half of the season with Smart back in the fold. The Celtics currently sit just five games behind the top-seeded Sixers in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and just three games behind the Bucks for the third seed. With some solid play in the back half of their schedule, the Celtics could put themselves in a good position for postseason play.