Game Preview: Celtics at Magic

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (7-9) and Orlando Magic (12-5) will meet for the second time in four days when the ball is tossed up at 8 p.m. tonight in the Amway Center. The odds are that this meeting will play out much different than the last one.

There were 18,624 fans who were able to watch in person as the Celtics embarrassed the Magic Monday night in TD Garden. Boston smothered Orlando despite missing five key players and ran away with an 87-56 win.

Boston’s performance was so rare and dominant that it resulted in a record-setting night for both teams. The 56 points allowed by the Celtics tied the franchise’s best defensive effort in the shot clock era. That total also doubled as the record low for Orlando’s franchise, and the Magic also made a franchise-low 16 total field goals in the game.

The Magic missed a lot of shots that they typically make, but this game was all about Boston’s defensive intensity. It all started with Avery Bradley, who started at point guard in place of the injured Rajon Rondo.

“His defense set the whole tone for the entire thing,” Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy said of Bradley. “He took us out; we had a hard time getting the ball down and getting into offense.”

Orlando turned things around quickly and defeated the Indiana Pacers the following night, but you can bet that the team’s coaching staff has been thinking about Bradley and his defense ever since that game in Indiana ended. Van Gundy hinted at that fact before the team even left TD Garden on Monday night.

“Before we play on Thursday, from an offensive standpoint, the first thing is going to be how can we get the ball down the court and into our offense,” said Van Gundy.

The Magic might actually get a break in that regard tonight, because Avery Bradley’s minutes might be very limited. It has been more than a week since Rondo injured his right wrist when he came down hard from a foul against the Toronto Raptors. There has been no indication as to if he’ll return to the lineup tonight, but he did travel with the team. The same can be said for Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling and Chris Wilcox, who all missed Monday’s game as well.

If Rondo and the rest of those guys return to the court tonight, it will surely change the complexity of this game. Boston’s defense and offense will change dramatically with those men, particularly Rondo, on the court. Unlike Bradley, Rondo holds the keys to the Celtics’ offense. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to expend all of his energy picking up Orlando’s point guards full court in the same manner that Bradley did on Monday.

While Rondo and the rest of that injured crew’s availability is unknown, we do know that Ray Allen will not be playing tonight. He is still recovering from a jammed left ankle that he suffered Sunday afternoon in Washington and did not travel with the team to Orlando.

Regardless of who does and does not play tonight, this game will certainly have a different feel than Monday’s did. The Magic played about as poorly as they could have played. Boston’s defense had a lot to do with that, but record-setting defensive performances don’t usually happen twice in four days.

With that being said, expect these teams to score far more than a combined 143 points tonight. There is just too much firepower on both sides of this matchup.

Boston couldn’t care less about how many points are scored, though. The Celtics are only concerned about achieving the same result – a win. If they can knock off Orlando again, the C’s will fly back to Boston riding a three-game winning streak.

Who Starts at Shooting Guard?

Doc Rivers will be put in an interesting predicament if Rondo returns to the lineup tonight. He will need to choose the man to start next to his point guard in the backcourt, and he could have some interesting options.

If everyone is available except for Allen, Rivers could start Pietrus, Sasha Pavlovic, Dooling or Bradley at two-guard. Pietrus would be the most likely candidate, seeing as he started the second half of Sunday’s game when Allen was injured.

But Rivers could roll the dice and toss Bradley in there simply because of his impact on the defensive end. That would likely force Rondo to guard someone like Jason Richardson, which could be an issue. However, if Bradley’s defense prevents Jameer Nelson from getting the ball up court to set up Orlando’s offense, there wouldn’t be enough time on the clock for Richardson to post Rondo up anyway.

Pending availability, Rivers could have several options. It will be interesting to see which one he chooses.

Orlando’s Shooting

Orlando’s final shooting numbers on Monday night were amazingly bad: 24.6 percent shooting, 25.0 percent from downtown and just 16 made field goals. It’s almost impossible to duplicate such a bad shooting game.

The Magic proved that when they went out and shot 45.6 percent from the floor, 40.6 percent from 3-point range and made 38 field goals the very next game, in the second night of a back-to-back, against a very good defensive team in Indiana.

Those are the types of numbers Orlando will likely approach tonight. Don’t expect Ryan Anderson to shoot 0-for-8 and score zero points, or for four Magic starters to score seven or less points. It’s just not going to happen. The Celtics will need to fight through a much better performance by Orlando.

Temper, Temper

During Dwight Howard’s tenure in Orlando, the Magic have been known as a team that can lose its cool very quickly. Howard complains about non-calls as much as, if not more than, any player in the league. And when he becomes unraveled, his team usually follows suit.

Howard and Jermaine O’Neal got into it during the third quarter of Monday’s game and each were assessed a technical foul with 7:34 remaining in the period. O’Neal and the Celtics had shut Howard down ever since the opening minutes of the game, and Howard was visibly frustrated. It was no surprise that shortly after his tech, anyone watching the game could see that Orlando’s players had given up.

More calls are likely to go Howard’s way tonight, seeing as he’ll be playing in his home arena, but that doesn’t mean the C’s can’t ignite his temper once again. If Howard’s loses his cool, the rest of his team might follow suit.