Game Preview: Celtics at Magic
After avoiding matching the worst five-game start in team history, the Boston Celtics will try to keep heading in the right direction by extending their recent dominance against the Orlando Magic.
The Magic, though, will be going for a fourth consecutive win when they host the Celtics on Friday night.
Boston had not dropped its first five games since its inaugural 1946-47 season, and the Celtics averted that dubious feat with a 97-87 win over visiting Utah on Wednesday. Former Magic forward Brandon Bass scored a season-high 20 points in coach Brad Stevens' first NBA victory.
"I'm going to celebrate for a whole 12 minutes, and then I'm going to start watching Orlando and trying to figure them out," Stevens said.
Boston has figured out how to beat the Magic in recent seasons, winning eight in a row in the series. This Celtics team, however, is missing four of its top five scorers from last season.
The Magic, in contrast, have returned five of their top six scorers from 2012-13 and that continuity has appeared to pay off even with Tobias Harris and Glen Davis out. Orlando is averaging 103.4 points this season - 9.3 more than in 2012-13 - and has produced 107.5 per game over its last four contests.
After being outscored 32-15 in the third quarter Wednesday, the Magic responded by outscoring the Los Angeles Clippers 26-16 in the final period to earn a 98-90 win. Nikola Vucevic made six free throws in the final 23 seconds and finished with 30 points and 21 rebounds.
"I know my team needs me to be aggressive," Vucevic said after his fifth career game with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. "The coaching staff keeps telling me to be aggressive on both ends of the court. I'm just trying to deliver for my team so we can get some wins."
Orlando's win streak is its longest since a season-high four-game run Dec. 14-19.
"I think the great thing is we have a grounded group of young men in the locker room," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "We're going to continue to get better, and that's going to be our approach. That's where we're going to find our success."
To find some against Boston, Orlando could use a better defensive performance. The Magic gave up an average of 111.0 points in the three meetings with the Celtics last season, their highest against an Eastern Conference opponent.
The Celtics, though, are one of the least dynamic offensive teams in the league, averaging 89.4 points. However, they're allowing only 93.4 per game.
Boston's Jordan Crawford averaged 20.7 points and 59.5 percent shooting while making eight of 14 from 3-point range in the three games against Orlando last season. He enters this contest averaging a career-low 9.2 points but shooting 50.0 percent.
The Celtics' Jeff Green, averaging a team-high 17.0 points, shot 35.0 percent in the three matchups with the Magic in 2012-13. He was 0 for 9 in a 116-110 overtime home victory over Boston on Nov. 25.