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Celtics vs Magic Preview
Written by Greg Michaels on 05/15/2009
Two months ago, the prospect of an Orlando vs. Boston round two match-up would have had people salivating. After the first round of this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs, it may have people more confused than anything.
In that time, the Celtics lost Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe to injury. At the same time, they have seen Rajon Rondo turn into the second coming of Oscar Robertson and Ray Allen reinforce his reputation as one of the greatest shooters of all time.
Orlando, in the meantime, stumbled down the stretch, lost their big man Dwight Howard for game of the first round, yet throttled the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers in six games. Of course, the Sixers were arguably the worst team in the playoffs, no disrespect to Detroit, so an easy victory over them was supposed to be an afterthought, anyhow.
What do we know about the two teams heading into Monday night Eastern Conference semis? We know the Celtics are tough, yet tested, and we know the Magic have yet to face a stiff test.
The questions are whether the Celtics have enough energy follwing the longest playoff series in NBA history and will the Magic be able to define themselves as a true post-season threat, with Howard firmly planting himself among the league’s elite.
The Celtics barely had time to catch their breath before they had to sit down to breakdown tae of the #3 seed Magic. Add to their fatigue the fact that Howard will have had almost a week off, and the Celtics may feel like they are running in quicksand to start their series Monday night at home.
The Celtics, however, do seem to have an advantage in the 1-3 spots, with their new Big Three having a mind-blowing edge on the Magic’s guards.
Where the Celtics are going to find themselves in trouble is trying to contain Howard and Magic forward Rashard Lewis. The Magic may best be known for their big man in the middle, but it is their small big man, Lewis at the four, that will give the Celt’s their biggest matchup problems. The Celtics are already short-handed without two of their big men, so Bryan Scalabrine and Big Baby Davis will have to step up to slow down Lewis.
If Howard can dominate the Celtics on the defensive end, the Magic should be able to take the series. But expect the Celtics to allow Rafer Alston and J.J. Reddick to try and beat them. The Celtics can live with giving up the occasional outside shot from those two, if it means shadowing Lewis and doubling down on Howard.
Paule Pierce and Rondo must commit to getting into the pain against the Magic, which will free up Allen and Eddie House to knock down shots and put pressure on Howard to defend the basket. If Howard gets in foul trouble, the Magic will be seriously outmanned.
The Celtics have shown resiliency against the young and scrappy Bulls, but nobody expected the Bulls to advance in the playoffs. The Magic have thought all year that this could be there year, and their 6-3 record against the Cavaliers, Celtics and Lakers prove that they may be ready to take that step. Playing a weakened opponent should help their cause. Now is the time for Howard to earn his Superman nickname. But the Magic shouldn’t expect a bumbling Lex Luthor effort from the Celtics, who have proven that they can survive even without their man of steel, Garnett.
"If you want to be the champs, you have to beat the champs," Howard said. Whether his team does or not will be largely on his broad shoulders.
Prediction: Celtics in 7