BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward is getting closer to a return to the Celtics lineup, and took another step forward on Tuesday. As his teammates prepared for Wednesday’s showdown with the Miami Heat, Hayward tested his left hand with some light contact on the practice floor.

That contact came during his drills at the Auerbach Center in Brighton on Tuesday. But Hayward called it “hybrid contact,” since it wasn’t the kind of contact he’ll experience when he returns to NBA action.

“I did some contact today with the coaches. The coaches aren’t quite NBA players … but before getting to that level I want to get comfortable using my left hand in a live situation, which I did today,” Hayward explained. “That went well so we’ll go through the progressions here.”

Hayward had a good check-up with his doctor on Monday, and even showed off his new scar to reporters on Tuesday. The forward hopes to take his rehab to the next level in the coming days.

“Ramping up live stuff that I’m doing and the contact situations, making things less structured. Today was structured so I could prepare for it. I can’t do that in a game, so that’s the next step,” he said.

Hayward underwent surgery on his left hand on Nov. 11, two nights after he broke his left ring finger in San Antonio. The Celtics were targeting a Christmas Day return, though Hayward hinted last week that he may be ahead of scheduled. He did not, however, want to put a timetable on his return on Tuesday, and said his focus is on regaining strength in the hand.

“Still hard to say exactly. But we have some good days here at home and really do the things I want to do and try feel it out and see how it responds,” he told reporters. “I did a lot on it today so I think it’ll be more sore and swollen. Go ice it and get the swelling down, and kind of just take it day by day.”

He hopes to avoid wearing a brace or a wrap upon his return, but Hayward said he’s ready to deal with that soreness and swelling throughout the rest of the season.

“I have to work through that to make my hand stronger,” he said. “Hopefully over the next couple of days, I can do that and get it to more of the same strength as my right hand. It will never be the exact same, but get it more strengthened so the percentage is closer to my right.”

While it’s a nusence, this injury is night and day compared to the one that ended Hayward’s first season in Boston after just five minutes on the floor. Since it’s his hand this time around, he can still work on conditioning and put up shots with his right hand (he also did some dribbling and shooting with his left hand on Tuesday). He’s not too worried about his mechanics when he gets back, but his hand taking another hit will be on the back of his mind. Another bump likely won’t sideline him, but it will mean another couple of hours with a giant ice pack on his hand.

“I’m not worried about it, but it’s one thing to dribble and pass and another to have someone coming full speed and put your arm on to keep them off the glass, or someone pushes you and you have to fight them back. That’s something that will take a little strength,” he said.

The Celtics are 7-4 in Hayward’s absence, but they will certainly welcome him back when the time comes. The veteran was having a great bounce-back season before getting hurt, averaging 18.9 points on 55 percent shooting to go with 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists for Boston.


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