For now he's a 12th man, but with the loss of Jared Sullinger for the season, Fab Melo is about to take that next step after a successful run with the Maine Red Claws of the NBADL for the last three months.

The other Celtics rookie suited up for last night's game against Orlando, played three minutes, made one steal in the 97-84 win, and started to absorb the big time.

"It's not the situation I wanted to come in when Jared got hurt. But this is an opportunity," said Melo. "This is the thing I've been looking for is this opportunity. If the coach calls my name I'll be ready for him. Danny (Ainge) told me I need to play more and that's why I was in Maine."

Doc Rivers is the most immovable of coaches when it comes to playing rookies, which says something about how advanced Sullinger was as a player.

But the Celtics coach now has no choice but to use the Brazilian 7-footer at some stage. The Clippers, one of the biggest and most athletic teams in the league, visit the Garden tomorrow.

"I'm sure we will at some point," Rivers said "I know how people here like to see the young guys, and love to play the young guys. But I'm sure at some point Fab will find his way on the floor. You try to give him as much as he can handle. You try to put him into situations where he's on the floor with Kevin (Garnett), so that will help him.

"The good thing, at least in this era right now, is that there aren't a lot of bigs," said Rivers. "There aren't a ton of big teams. Orlando, because of the loss of (Glen Davis, broken foot), has to play small at times. Unfortunately the team we play next (Clippers) is really big. But other than that there's three or four teams in the entire league."

All the same, Melo's first substantial minutes are probably not imminent.

"I don't see Fab getting a lot of opportunities right now," said Ainge. "So we'll have to keep tabs on that, because we want him to continue his development."

Melo, though, believes he has already made progress.

"It's not tough because I've been working on my game," said Melo. "I improved a lot. My defensive part of my game, my offense, and just the experience to play man-on-man. This is new for me, because in Syracuse I stayed in the middle of the zone all the time."