- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Dwight Howard needs 26 points to become the Orlando Magic's all-time leading scorer. What are the chances he gets it Monday night against the Celtics and their pseudo-centers? What are the chances soon-to-be-No. 2 Nick Anderson will be watching?
Howard is coming off a 21-point, 23-rebound submission against the Lakers (a 92-80 Orlando victory) for his fifth 20/20 game of the season. One of those was the first 40/20 game in the NBA in eight years (45 points, 23 rebounds against the Warriors). All of the trade talk doesn't seem to be remotely bothering Howard, who is averaging 20.2 points and 16.1 rebounds a game. He even leads the Magic in steals at 1.4 a game.
The Celtics will be hard pressed to even irritate Howard. Jermaine O'Neal has had his moments, but he is overmatched. After that, there's who? Poor Brandon Bass had to deal with Howard in practice the past few years. As Doc Rivers said earlier this season, "We'll see how big his eyes get when he has to defend him in a game."
The Magic are tied with Miami at 11-4 and Howard is the main reason for their success -- but far from the only one. Little-known Ryan Anderson, a fourth-year power forward from the University of California, has emerged as the team's starter and is pouring in 17.5 points a game. (Just for comparison's sake, the Celtics went into Sunday's game against the Wizards with Ray Allen as their scoring leader at 15.5 a game.) Anderson also averages 7.3 rebounds a game, also more than any Celtic through 14 games.
This promises to be another T-E-S-T for the Celtics. Maybe they will join the Patriots and finally beat a team with a winning record. So far, the Celtics are a big oh-fer against any team with a winning record or legitimate playoff aspirations and 5-1 against teams with losing records. A bigger problem: four of their five losses to good teams (Indiana, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Chicago) have been at home.
While much of the Celtics' fan base will be focused on the return of Glen "Big Baby" Davis, the former Celtics sub is basically doing what he did in Boston. He's coming off the bench. He's playing a little more (22-plus minutes) while averaging 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds. He will arrive back in Boston with a heavy heart of sorts, having just attended the funeral of his grandmother. He also arrives a little lighter in the wallet after having been called for a technical foul last week for -- we are not making this up -- pulling down his pants. (Thank the Lord he was wearing black Spandex underneath.)
Davis had his moments in Boston with Doc Rivers and he's already had at least one public run-in with his new coach, Stan Van Gundy. After a game against Washington earlier this season, when Davis was 2-of-10 from the field, Van Gundy said of his new import: "He's not playing well and I'm not sure his mind is on the right things right now. I've seen the guy play very well. He's a good player. He's a smart guy. He should be able to figure it out. Sometimes it takes time."
Two games after Van Gundy's verbal challenge, Davis erupted for 20 points against the Sacramento Kings, his season high. But he's shooting a career-low 38 percent from the field.
Expect Davis to receive a nice ovation -- maybe not Perkinsian in duration or volume -- and he probably also will be given a video tribute during a timeout. The Celtics have been good to those who helped win a title and Davis also was a key guy for the 2010 team that almost won a second title in a three-year stretch.
But while Baby is a regular contributor to the Magic, it would be a bit of a stretch to call him much more than that. Howard is The Man and Anderson is already making a case for breakout player of the year. Jameer Nelson still runs the show capably and Van Gundy has surrounded Howard with a plethora of 3-point bombers, including Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu (questionable with back spasms), Jason Richardson, J.J. Redick and Nelson.
Orlando leads the league in both 3-point shots made and attempted, and is third in 3-point percentage at 40.1 percent. (The Celtics entered Sunday's game against Washington as No. 1 in 3-point accuracy at 42.7 percent. They were No. 9 in 3-point defensive field goal percentage.) The Magic average 10 made 3s a game and have had that many or more in seven games this season. Their record in those games: 7-0.
Yes, to coin a phrase, Rivers will have his work cut out for him Monday night. Rajon Rondo has missed the past two games and is officially day-to-day. Boston's offense looked dreadful against the Suns and somewhat better against the Wizards.
Orlando, however, is another matter entirely. As long as Howard stays around, the Magic will be one of the elite teams in the conference. The Celtics used to be one of those teams, but their 6-9 record this season -- with three of the wins coming over Washington -- resigns them to borderline-Secaucus right now.
They're going to break through one of these days and beat a team that matters. With another game on tap Thursday at Orlando this week, Monday night represents the next, best opportunity.
Longtime NBA writer Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
As Big Baby returns to Boston, Dwight Howard's the guy the Celtics need to focus on.