By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage
At TD Garden at 8 p.m. in front of a national television audience (TNT), the Magic will look to improve to 2-0 against the Celtics this season and establish momentum in this rivalry should the two East powers clash again in the playoffs.
Just several days after overhauling its roster with two blockbuster trades, Orlando overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Boston at Amway Center on Christmas. Brandon Bass registered 21 points and Jameer Nelson connected on two critical 3-pointers in the final minutes.
While last year’s series between the Magic and Celtics did not end in Orlando’s favor, their epic conference semifinal clash from two seasons ago did.
A heavy underdog prior to their decisive Game 7 in Boston, the Magic walked into an antagonistic environment and crushed the Celtics to advance. Hedo Turkoglu, who will play at TD Garden on Monday in a Magic uniform for the first time since that game, erupted for 25 points and 12 assists.
Unlike their December meeting, Orlando will have to contend with Rajon Rondo, who missed the contest on Christmas with an ankle injury. Boston is also expected to have Kevin Garnett back, who has been out since hurting his right leg on Dec. 29.
Shaquille O’Neal, meanwhile, is questionable for Boston after slipping on ice and injuring his right leg before Sunday’s practice.
Although it won just one of its three games in Boston during the conference finals last season, Orlando has prevailed in three consecutive regular season visits to TD Garden.
It was Dec. 18 -- the very day Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith completed two blockbuster trades that required Orlando to dress just eight players against visiting Philadelphia.
The 76ers, in effect, cruised to a victory. On Wednesday, however, at 7 p.m., Philadelphia will have to contend with an entirely full and different roster when it returns to Orlando.
After a disappointing 3-13 start to the season, the Sixers have played much better lately and currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
While injuries had caused Elton Brand to digress since signing a five-year $82 million contract with Philadelphia in 2008, the two-time NBA All-Star has bounced back and is enjoying a solid season. He leads the Sixers in scoring (15 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg).
In his last visit to Orlando, Brand racked up 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Another catalyst to the 76ers’ recent success is the improved play of Lou Williams, who by season’s end may be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Williams has scored in double figures in nine of Philly’s last 11 games and buried a pivotal go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of the Sixers’ last win over the Bucks on Friday.
It has not been a successful first season thus far, however, for the franchise’s esteemed rookie. Evan Turner, who was selected second overall in the 2010 NBA Draft after a few standout years at Ohio State, has struggled averaging just 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds.
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The Magic will be searching for a bit of revenge after Toronto snapped a six-game losing skid by defeating Orlando, 110-106, back on Nov. 12.
DeMar DeRozan had one of his most effective and efficient games of the season on that night, knocking down eight of his 13 shots from the floor on his way to 26 points.
“DeRozan in particular (hurt us),” said Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy. “We couldn’t get him under control all night. I thought they played really well.”
Andrea Bargnani was also an instrumental factor for the Raptors in that affair, pouring in a game-high 27 points to lead Toronto to victory.
But the Magic now feature a dramatically different squad, which on this occasion will attempt to hold Toronto under 50 percent shooting from the field.
Orlando will now defend DeRozan with a rotation of Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick, who are both much more high-energy defenders than their predecessor, Vince Carter.
Brandon Bass, now the Magic’s starting power forward, will get a crack at defending Bargnani from the start.
In their last meeting. Bass stepped in off the bench and limited the former No. 1 selection in the 2006 NBA Draft after he lit up Rashard Lewis.
“Brandon came in and I thought did a very good job on Bargnani,” Van Gundy explained. “He slowed him down a little bit.”
Outside of its Amway Center triumph, Toronto has not been a very effective team on the road this season, winning just 4-of-15 matchups away from the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre.
The Magic hope their road-weary ways continue on Friday.
After opening up with a slow start against the Rockets – when the two squads went head-to-head back on Jan. 7 – Orlando used a tremendous third-quarter effort to surge past Houston for a commanding 110-95 home victory.
Jason Richardson and Brandon Bass led an extremely balanced offensive attack for Orlando, combining to go 15-for-20 from the field on their way to 36 points.
Four other Magic players scored in double digits, including a 16-point effort from Ryan Anderson and a 13-point, 11-rebound performance from superstar center Dwight Howard.
“They have a good team and a lot of weapons,” Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman explained. “I’m more worried about our own team and the way we gave into it. We’ve got to be better than that and make them work a little bit harder.”
The Rockets won’t be the only ones attempting to improve on that showing from earlier this month. Orlando also has a few items on its agenda.
Despite a tremendous second-half push in that contest, Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy has expressed his displeasure recently with Orlando’s inability to bring high energy for four quarters of basketball and wants his squad to put forth a complete effort against Houston.
His starting point guard completely agrees.
“The slow starts are frustrating, because we start the third quarter off good so we know that we can do it,” Jameer Nelson said. “It’s just something that we have to get figured out. Later on, we start making good second and third efforts. But early on, we aren’t even making one good effort.”
Along with getting off to a better start, also on Orlando’s itinerary: limiting Kevin Martin. The dynamic two guard erupted for a contest-best 27 points in their last meeting.
If the Magic can check off both of those items on their list come Saturday, expect Rockets fans to cry, “Houston, we have a problem.”
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