ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Orlando Sentinel previews Thursday's Celtics-Magic showdown with a fantastic photo illustration of an aged Rasheed Wallace (replete with AARP headband and cane) with the headline, "Old & Gray is the new Green: Boston's veteran (crusty) nucleus still nets respect."
While the illustration pokes fun at Boston's aging roster, the story is largely positive, with Magic players (and NBA TV analyst / former Celtic Kevin McHale) praising the Green.
The main Amway Arena scoreboard tonight will display the words "Magic" and "Celtics." But maybe one of those team names should be changed to "Graybeards."
Haven't you heard the criticism the Boston Celtics have faced all season?
Supposedly, they're too old to win an NBA title.
On paper, the Celtics look ancient for the rough-and-tumble world of pro basketball. Paul Pierce is 32. Kevin Garnett is 33. Ray Allen is 34. Rasheed Wallace is 35. Detractors argue that Boston cannot depend on its aging nucleus once the playoffs arrive. The argument goes that the Big Four will be worn out from the regular season or one of them could miss the playoffs because of injury, as Garnett did last year.
The Celtics don't share that pessimism.
"I think we're an older team from the sense of experience," Allen said. "We're more mature. I think we're deeper. Our bench is better."
Allen uttered those sentences a month ago, just before the Celtics defeated the Magic 86-77 on Christmas Day. The two Eastern Conference rivals will meet again tonight before a packed house at the Am and a national-television audience.
Much has changed since Christmas. Orlando lost eight of its next 15 games as it endured a confounding slump. Boston lost eight of its next 14 games as it dealt with injuries to Pierce, Garnett and swingman Marquis Daniels.
But the Celtics (29-13) still have the second-best record in the East, and they now have everyone healthy except for Daniels, who should return from a thumb injury sometime in mid-February.
"They've just got a lot of veteran guys on the team, very smart guys, but they still get the job done," Orlando's Rashard Lewis said. "They're still one of the top teams in the league, so you can't take that away from them.
"I've got a lot of respect for that team, and if you don't have respect for that team, they'll show you. So, I think you can't look at them as an older team. They're still a team that's going after that trophy, and they very well have enough guys to go and win it."
The front page of the Sentinel displayed a headline, "Can coach Doc Rivers keep aging Celtics on their game tonight against Magic?"