Game Preview: Magic at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Hope for the third seed in the Eastern Conference has all but slipped from the minds of the Boston Celtics (36-26), but they’re still fighting for home court in the first round of the playoffs. That fight continues at 8 p.m. tonight when the Celtics host the visiting Orlando Magic (36-25).

It’s conceivable that these two teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs, and tonight’s game could play a huge role in making that happen. Atlanta and Orlando have the exact same record with five games remaining on their respective schedules. Whichever team finishes with a better record will take on the C’s in the opening round.

It seems as if every game matters right now for every team contending for the NBA playoffs. Boston is fresh off of a big loss to the Knicks last night in New York, a game that also had playoff implications.

The Celtics made a run in the second half after falling behind by as many as 21 points, but they couldn’t get over the hump in Madison Square Garden. The reason was because New York had a record-tying first half in which it made 14 3-pointers.

The shooting performance was almost unstoppable, as several different Knicks players were on fire from behind the arc. With that memory fresh in its collective mind, Boston will be looking to avoid a similar situation tonight.

Orlando heads into tonight’s game leading the league – and by a wide margin – in both 3-pointers attempted per game (26.8) and 3-pointers made per game (10.2). The Magic have five players on their roster who attempt at least 4.0 3s a night, led by Ryan Anderson’s average of 6.8 per game. He leads the league in 3-pointers attempted and made this season.

What may prevent the Magic from hoisting up 3-pointer after 3-pointer tonight, however, is the fact that Dwight Howard will not be on the floor. Orlando’s offense is predicated on Howard’s presence around the paint. The expectation is that the big man will draw so much attention down low that his teammates will be open behind the 3-point line. For the most part, that style of play has held true over the past few seasons.

Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett

Dwight Howard will not play in tonight's game due to a herniated disc in his back.
Jim Rogash/NBAE/Getty

Howard has missed the past five games with a herniated disc in his back and there is no timetable for his return. During his absence, the team’s 3-point shooting has actually increased to 27.6 attempts per game and a 39 percent conversion rate. But those performances haven’t come against a defense like Boston’s.

The Celtics will certainly be geared up for a bounce back game, particularly on defense. As everyone around the league knows, Boston prides itself at that end of the floor, particularly in defending the 3-point shot. The C’s have limited opponents to the worst 3-point shooting percentage in the league this season, at 30.6 percent. After last night’s disappointing game in which New York scored 118 points and shot 59.4 percent, defense will certainly be a point of emphasis for them.

Boston will also need a much better all around performance from its team in order to win this game. Paul Pierce carried the squad with a Celtics season-high of 43 points last night, but the bench provided an anemic two points. As Boston found out, you just can’t win important NBA games without any production from the reserves.

There are many circumstances surrounding this game that are similar to those of last night’s contest, from a 3-point-shooting opponent to playoff implications. The Celtics failed to deliver in New York, but now they have an opportunity to avoid a similar result tonight in TD Garden.

Dominate the Paint

Can you name the player who started at center for the Magic in their most recent game Monday night? It wasn’t Dwight Howard. It wasn’t even Glen Davis. It was rookie Daniel Orton, who has played all of 11 games in his NBA career.

Orlando is riddled with injuries at the worst possible time of its season, as Howard, Glen Davis (hyperextended right knee) and Hedo Turkoglu (facial fracture) have all missed time of late. Davis is the only possible player in that group who may play in tonight’s game.

With those facts being known, Boston must set a goal of dominating the paint tonight. The Magic will have next to no size on the floor, and its tallest player, Anderson, is known most for hanging out around the 3-point line. Keep an eye out for Boston’s frontline players leaving a substantial impact on this game.

Same, but Different

Although tonight’s game is against another team that attempts a heck of a lot of 3s, this one shouldn’t play out like last night’s contest in New York. The Knicks were able to barrage the C’s with 3s because Boston chose to double-team and trap Carmelo Anthony every time he touched the ball. Anthony made the correct decision on nearly every one of those plays and the Knicks wound up with open looks from behind the arc.

That will not happen tonight. There is not a single player on Orlando’s roster whom Boston will need to double-team tonight. Anderson has the potential to play on the block, but Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma and Brandon Bass should be able to handle him one-on-one.

Injury Questions

Both teams have injury questions heading into this game. We’ve already listed the fact that Orlando will be without two of its starters and possibly Glen Davis, too.

For the Celtics, Ray Allen hasn’t played since April 10 due to a sore right ankle. He has tested the ankle at several shootarounds since then, but it has not progressed enough to get him back on the court. Mickael Pietrus missed last night’s game thanks to a sore right knee and may not play tonight, either. Lastly, Rajon Rondo came down hard on his lower back during Tuesday’s game and will surely need to play through a lot of pain tonight.