Celtics Aim To Surprise Surprising Magic

ORLANDO – The Boston Celtics are going to have their hands full tonight when they take on the Orlando Magic.

Wait... what?

No one would have predicted this heading into the 2013-14 season. The Magic are just 15 months removed from trading Dwight Howard to the Lakers, yet they’re already proving to be one of the better teams in the NBA this season.

Courtney Lee takes a jumper over Nikola Vucevic

Courtney Lee and the Celtics are aiming to take down the surprising Magic tonight.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

Orlando has won three consecutive games, including victories over the Nets and Clippers, and it isn’t far away from being undefeated. The Magic hung with Indiana on Opening Night and narrowly lost in overtime to the Timberwolves one night later.

Balance is the name of the game for the Magic. They have one of the top centers in the league in Nikola Vucevic, who is coming off of a 30-point, 21-rebound game against DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers. What makes them dangerous, however, is the fact that Vucevic is surrounded by a host of talented scorers.

“The thing that’s scary is that they shoot the ball well,” Brad Stevens said at Friday morning’s shootaround. “Jameer Nelson can really shoot it, (Victor) Oladipo can shoot the ball, you’ve got (Andrew) Nicholson at the 4, you’ve got (Arron) Afflalo, who’s playing great, you’ve got E’Twaun Moore who’s really scoring the ball more.”

The list goes on and on for Orlando. The Magic have six players who are averaging at least 10.4 points per game this season. They have four players who are hitting at least 38.5 percent of their 3-pointers. Orlando’s average of 103.4 points per game ranks ninth in the league, and its 3-point percentage of 41.6 percent ranks seventh in the league.

Clearly, this is going to be a hefty challenge for the Celtics to overcome. But it’s a challenge they’re well prepared for.

Boston has proven to be one of the better defensive teams in the league despite its 1-4 record. The Celtics rank second in the league in opponent scoring by giving up just 93.4 PPG. The C’s are also a top-10 team in the league when it comes to defensive efficiency.

Stevens’ team has been on the rise in those categories as the season has progressed. Boston’s coach is pleased with the direction in which the team’s defense is trending.

“Our bigs are getting more used to where they can help appropriately, when they need to get back,” Stevens said. “And our guards have done, at times, a very good job of getting into the ball within this operating area.

“I think we can get a lot better at that. I think our bigs will get a lot more comfortable in calling our coverages, but for the most part we’re progressing in the right direction on the defensive end. There’s no doubt about it.”

Boston will need to see that progression tonight from each of its players who walk onto the floor. Orlando’s depth means that there is no drop off when head coach Jaque Vaughn goes to his second unit.

“Their bench is really interesting, because they’ve got [Oladipo], and the guy who really I thought turned the Clippers game was E’Twaun Moore, like we said,” Stevens commented. “Then you’ve got a guy like Nicholson who can score it by the bunches. So it’s a tough bench to defend.”

Ah, but the Celtics are well-prepared to defend that, too. Boston’s bench was its strong point during Wednesday night’s win over the Utah Jazz. Gerald Wallace, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger each finished with a plus/minus rating of at least plus-10 during that game. The trio combined for 35 points, 22 rebounds and six assists. Synergy Sports also ranks those players as excellent, very good and good, respectively, at the defensive end of the court.

As you may be starting to realize, these two teams are similar in many ways. Both have built themselves on youth in order to start new eras. Both are built on depth, going about 10 deep on the bench. Both are attempting to prove everyone who is counting them out to be wrong. The only true difference is that Orlando has managed to pull out victories more often than the Celtics have thus far.

That may be due to the fact that this Magic team is now in its second season together, while the Celtics are in their first. There are only two summer additions, Oladipo and Jason Maxiell, who are currently in Orlando’s rotation. The Magic are playing well as a team and it is showing in the standings.

“They look very cohesive to me,” Stevens said. “They look like they’re going to be a team, and they’re going to be a team for a long time.”

That’s exactly what Stevens wants the Celtics to look like. They aren’t there yet, but they aren’t very far away.

In the meantime, the records tell us that Orlando has the upper hand tonight. The Magic have undoubtedly been one of the most surprising stories of the NBA thus far in 2013-14.

Now it’s time for Boston to surprise them in their own arena.