Game Preview: Magic at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – It has been a while since the Boston Celtics (6-9) experienced back-to-back wins, but they can change all of that with a victory over the visiting Orlando Magic (11-4) at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden.

The Celtics are coming off of a win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday despite being hamstrung by injuries. They were forced to play without Rajon Rondo (wrist), Keyon Dooling (knee) and Chris Wilcox (calf) for the entire game, and then Ray Allen went down in the first half with an ankle injury. It’s very possible that Boston will have to play without all of those important players again tonight against one of the best teams in the league.

All 15 players made the trip down to Washington this weekend, and that’s a great indication that the trio of injured Celtics are on the verge of returning to the court. However, there is no word as to if any of them are close enough to slide back into the rotation tonight. It’s also difficult to imagine Allen returning to action just one day after tweaking his ankle, but anything is possible.

Knocking off the Magic with an undermanned squad would be quite a task for this Celtics team. Orlando rolls into tonight’s game having won six of its last seven games and Dwight Howard has been the one leading the way.

Howard has not allowed trade rumors to affect his play this season in the least bit. In fact, he’s playing MVP-caliber basketball. The big man has notched five 20-point, 20-rebound games this season, and that’s more than the rest of the league combined. He is coming off of a 21-point, 23-rebound performance against the Lakers in a 92-80 victory Friday night.

Howard’s play has been spectacular, but you don’t win in the NBA with just one player. His wingman this season has been Ryan Anderson, who is making a push to be selected to his first career All-Star game.

Anderson, whom many considered to be a throw-in when the Magic acquired Vince Carter in 2009, is playing the best basketball of his life. He is averaging 17.5 PPG and is drilling 41.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. Anderson is playing the exact same role that Rashard Lewis used to play with Orlando, and he’s putting up better numbers than Lewis did in 2008-09 when he made the All-Star team alongside Howard.

The duo of Howard and Anderson on Orlando’s frontline is one of the best in the league, but when those two aren’t on the floor together that often means that one of them is teaming up with a former Celtic.

Glen Davis is Orlando’s top big man off of the bench and is averaging 7.0 PPG and 5.1 RPG during his first season away from Boston. Davis spent the first four years of his career with the Celtics and made it to the NBA Finals during two of those seasons, brining home one championship. He was traded in December, along with Von Wafer, for Brandon Bass, who has been Boston’s top scorer off of the bench this season.

Davis’ return to TD Garden will certainly be emotional for him, the Celtics and the crowd. We just experienced a similar situation exactly a week ago when Kendrick Perkins made his return to Boston. Perkins struggled with his emotions that night and tallied just seven points and five rebounds. Davis is an emotional player and could wind up in the same boat.

Interestingly enough, Davis might not have an opportunity to say hello to too many of his former teammates on the floor tonight. If Boston doesn’t have Rondo, Allen and the rest of the injured list available to play, the long longtime Celtics who will be active are Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Those two had enough in the tank on Sunday to power the undermanned Celtics to a win over the Wizards, and they may have to try to do the same again tonight against Davis and the Magic.

The Captain is Back

If you were wondering where the real Paul Pierce was for the past few weeks, wonder no longer. He has returned.

Pierce was utterly unstoppable on Sunday afternoon and racked up a Celtics season high 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the floor. He approached triple-double territory by also grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out 10 assists.

Sunday’s performance was by far Pierce’s best of the season. It’s clear that he is feeling better and better as the games go on. His 15 free throw attempts were a strong indication of how great he felt on Sunday. Pierce was in attack mode and could not be stopped. He probably won’t duplicate that performance again tonight, but the hope is that he can string together another great game against Hedo Turkoglu and the Magic.

The Rest Factor

Everyone around the league, including the Celtics, know that the Boston Celtics have struggled in the second night of back-to-backs over the past couple of seasons. They are 1-2 in those situations this season.

Tonight’s game will be the tail-end of a back-to-back for the C’s, but the good news is that it won’t be a quick turnaround from a late game the night before. Sunday’s contest in Washington wrapped up at about 3:30 p.m., so Boston’s players were able to return home at a decent time and get some solid rest. Still, though, this will be two games in two days for the C’s.

Orlando, on the other hand, will head into tonight’s game very well rested. The Magic have not played since Friday night’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. This will be only the fourth occasion this season in which Orlando has come off of at least two days of rest. They are currently 3-0 in those situations.

Execution and Accountability

Those are two things the Celtics haven’t had a whole lot of this season. Their offensive execution has been so poor that they head into tonight’s game ranked 26th in the league in scoring, with 89.6 PPG. Sunday’s win included the team’s first 100-point performance in nearly three full weeks.

As Doc Rivers said after the win over Washington, he called his players out regarding their execution and accountability, and they answered the call.

“When we talked to the team yesterday, the first thing we said was ‘Execution defensively and offensively. No excuses,’ “ Rivers said on Sunday. “They have to hold everybody accountable, and I thought our guys did that all game today. Every time a guy made a mistake, you could see the other guy telling him, and he took it.”

That is the type of play that has been synonymous with this Celtics team over the past four-plus seasons. It will need to continue tonight in order to snag a win against one of the top teams in the league.