WALTHAM — Rajon Rondo has been counting the seconds.
By tipoff Friday, 29,233,380 will have passed — roughly 338 days — since Feb. 13, 2013, when a surgeon repaired the torn anterior cruciate ligament in Rondo’s right knee.
Since then, the Celtics’ All-Star point guard has rehabbed, working steadily but patiently toward his much-anticipated return to the court.
And barring any unforeseen setbacks, that return will come Friday, when Rondo is expected to play in his first game in nearly a year, as the Celtics face the rival Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens confirmed that Rondo is expected to make his season debut against the Lakers. He should start.
“The plan of attack will be he will play 18 to 20 minutes, and that would be a max,” Stevens said after practice on Thursday. “So then you decide how you want to disperse those and how you want to attack each portion of the game and all those things.”
Rondo didn’t speak with the media Thursday. Friday would mark his first game since Jan. 25, 2013, when he injured his knee against Atlanta.
Ainge and Stevens were quick to temper expectations with Rondo, a four-time All-Star who has twice led the league in assist average, and who is the sole Celtic remaining from the 2008 title team.
“I don’t think we can expect him to be Game 7 Rajon Rondo [Friday],” Stevens said.
Said Ainge, “[Rondo] hasn’t played for a year. What I’ve seen throughout my professional basketball career is that the ACL injury is something that every player has to overcome and coming back mentally, not just physically.
“I anticipate some adjustments, and just getting used to playing and feeling confident and returning to the player that he was. And I think he will get there, and I don’t know how long it will take, if that means a week or a month or what. He has to get back out on the court and he has to try it, and now is as good a time as any.”
Ainge did say that he doesn’t expect Rondo to take long to return to his old self.
“I anticipate him coming back faster than any of us think,” Ainge said.
Stevens said Rondo will provide an immediate lift. “He gets the ball to people better than anybody around,” he said.
But it’s not yet clear if Rondo will play in the second game of any back-to-back sets — and the Celtics have one next week, when they play at Miami Tuesday and at Washington Wednesday.
“I think it’s going to be hard for him to have a minutes restriction,” Stevens said. “There might me some wind that comes along with that, but he’s going to want to play once he’s out there. That’s the way it works. We’ll listen to all of the medical personnel to make sure that we’re doing this right. I look at this as part of his rehab.”
Ainge watched Rondo’s practice with the Maine Red Claws here on Wednesday when Rondo was on a brief assignment with the Celtics’ Development League team. That practice was considered to be Rondo’s final hurdle before he could play in a game.
“He looked good,” Ainge said. “He’s had some good practices. And I think he’s physically and mentally ready. I think conditioning right now is probably the biggest question.”
Ainge added that Rondo will probably play five minutes per quarter, at least initially.
“And knowing Rondo, he’s going to be complaining about that, probably checking himself back into the game occasionally because that’s who he is. But that’s the game plan,” Ainge said.
The Celtics are rebuilding this season, so it would seem that there’s no rush to bring Rondo back, but Ainge said they have been patient only because the process demanded it.
“He’s anxious to play, and I just didn’t think he’s been ready to play,” Ainge said. “So the last few weeks have been really focused on continuing the rehab and the strength training of his leg, but also conditioning. He does a lot. Playing point guard in the NBA against some of the greatest athletes requires a great deal of conditioning and I think he was a little bit surprised when he had a couple practices and realized how far he had to go from a conditioning standpoint.”
For Stevens, Friday’s game will mark the first that he’s had the Celtics’ best player at his disposal since he became coach.
“There’s all kind of thoughts that are going through my mind right now,” Stevens said. “I think that we’ll add a few things over the next few weeks, but for the most part we’ll play very similar to how we’ve played.”
Stevens also said that while Rondo knows the playbook well, there still figures to be an adjustment period to running the team again.
“He hasn’t called a game on the fly in a while,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy a lot like [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady and all those guys. He can see things and audible on the fly, and that’s pretty good. So I want to talk to him about some of these things. And he has a lot of freedom to make reads.”
Naturally, there is an excitement among the other Celtics, which Stevens noticed Wednesday when they snapped a nine-game losing streak by beating Toronto.
“I think obviously the community is going to be really excited, as they should be, and our players will be really excited,” Stevens said. “And I think it’s appropriate for everyone to temper their expectations of him, especially early on in this comeback.”