Game 28: Celtics vs. Magic
|(23-4, 10-3 away)||-- vs. --||(17-12, 10-5 home)|
GAME PREVIEW (via Associated Press)
Celtics coach Doc Rivers remembers when Boston overhauled its roster three years ago. Sure, the talent was there with the Big Three. So were the questions.
"When we made our move everybody told us you had to wait a year to put a championship team together," Rivers said before the Celtics practiced Friday in Orlando. "I didn't buy into that. Neither did our guys, and we proved everybody wrong."
Now imagine a major midseason shake-up.
The Celtics will face a reconstructed Magic team Saturday trying to duplicate the quick turnaround -- only doing so in December -- that propelled Boston to instant champions, giving this Eastern Conference finals rematch a Christmas Day remix.
"We're not playing for December or January," Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard said. "We're playing for June."
Orlando is a shell of the team bounced by Boston in six games last season.
An early slide forced the Magic to orchestrate two blockbuster trades last weekend that brought Gilbert Arenas from Washington and Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark from Phoenix. They gave up Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, plus a 2011 first-round draft pick and cash, in the deals.
Now one question to be answered is do they match up better with Boston.
"I'm not sure how, since they've gotten smaller, what sense that makes," Rivers said. "They've just brought more talent and they're a better team, to me, in the long run because they've added more talent."
There is a glaring difference, of course, from the Magic's makeover to the summer of 2007 when the Celtics teamed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with Paul Pierce: Boston still had a training camp and an entire regular season to get ready. Orlando is doing this on the fly.
Even Magic coach Stan Van Gundy isn't quite sure how it will all shake out.
"I think Miami and Boston are very, very good. Chicago, Atlanta and New York are all playing well and are good. And I think we're a total unknown." he said.
If last season was any indication, there's no telling what this matchup might look like in the playoffs.
The Celtics limped into the postseason as the fourth seed last season. All they did was knock out top-seeded Cleveland and MVP LeBron James and second-seeded Orlando before losing to the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
The Magic are banking on the same approach: sacrifice now to win later. And that's about all they can do at this point.
Read the full preview HERE.
FORSBERG'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
- No second helpings: Despite all the injuries to their frontcout, the Celtics are giving up a mere 11.1 second-chance points per game this season. That will be challenged by the Magic as Howard is among the best in the league in offensive rebounds per game (3.4, 11th in NBA) and second-chance points (4.4 per game, 4th in NBA). The Celtics stressed limiting second-chance points last outing against the 76ers and are sure to do the same on Christmas Day.
- Streak busters? The Magic stomped the Spurs in their last game, snapping San Antonio’s 12-game winning streak and, on Christmas, they'll have a chance to put a stop to Boston's NBA season-best 14-game streak. According to ESPN researchers, the last team to snap two 10+ game win streaks in consecutive games was the 1996-97 Los Angeles Lakers, who ended an 11-game Phoenix stretch on April 11, then stopped Utah's 15-game streak on April 13. Ironically, the Dallas Mavericks already broke two 10-game streaks this season (not on consecutive days) in the Heat (12) and Spurs (12).
- Playoff atmosphere: Celtics coach Doc Rivers has done a fantastic job utilizing all his available bodies in games against lesser competition, but facing a rival opponent on a national stage, expect the rotation to be shortened and Boston to lean heavy on its Big Three. Keep an eye on Paul Pierce, who should have extra motivation after missing this game last season and is coming off a frustrating game against the 76ers. One thing to keep in mind: The Magic have struggled against good teams this season, boasting a 13-3 mark against sub-.500 teams and just a 4-9 record against those with winning records.
Never in NBA history, before this season, had four teams recorded winning streaks spanning at least 12 games before Christmas. But Boston has to be regarded as the headliner of the group -- which also features San Antonio, Dallas and Miami -- thanks to the 14 consecutive wins that the Celts will tote into this Eastern Conference finals rematch with overhauled Orlando.
I suspect that the Magic, meanwhile, will emerge from this reunion having left the distinct impression that management was (perilously) thinking way more about Miami than Boston when it swung those two big shakeup trades last weekend.
If the teams meet again in the postseason, Boston will potentially boast a four-man platoon (Shaquille O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O'Neal and Glen Davis) armed with 24 fouls to take on Dwight Howard. Orlando, by contrast, would no longer have a power forward with 3-point range and a proven ability to draw Kevin Garnett out of the paint like it had with Rashard Lewis.
Lewis has undeniably dropped off in a big and scary way since helping Orlando go all the way to the NBA Finals in 2009, but Hedo Turkoglu's reluctance to embrace playing time at the 4-spot for Alvin Gentry was one of the main reasons Phoenix was so eager to trade him. Playing Turkoglu at power forward against Boston for long stretches, furthermore, just doesn't sound feasible defensively. So you can make the case the Magic will miss Lewis against the Celts … even this Lewis.
Which prompts us, yet again, to ask whether Magic general manager Otis Smith should have stopped at making one massive trade. Routing San Antonio with the Spurs playing on the second night of a back-to-back, impressive as the Magic looked Thursday night, isn't nearly enough to change the view here that holding off on the Gilbert Arenas gamble and focusing on the additions of Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark from Phoenix was the wiser play.
Can Dwight's peerless one-man-gang defensive presence and Stan Van Gundy's famed prodding of his players prove us wrong and reduce the amount of Orlando slippage on D that's so widely expected post-trade? Wouldn't be the first time someone made us look bad. But I just don't see how these two dice rolls, creating as many questions as they potentially answer, are going to move Orlando higher than its previous standing of No. 3 in the East's title-chasing pecking order.
Can't shake the feeling that just doing the Phoenix deal would have reduced the potential for long-term damage.
Click HERE to read the full Weekend Dime.
Play Podcast ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter weighs in on the Panthers' WR situation, Julian Edelman's future with the Patriots, Vince Wilfork's decision to ask for his release and more.
Play Podcast "Spanning the Globe" features ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, Yahoo! Sports' Eric Edholm and ESPN LA 710's Mark Willard.
Play Podcast Red Sox manager John Farrell talks about whether he expected his team to make such a turnaround in one season, his relationship with his players, fans' expectations for the squad and more.