Game Preview: Celtics at Magic

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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (40-39) will play the second leg of their trip through Florida when they take on the Magic (20-59) at 7 p.m. tonight in Orlando. Boston began the two-game trip with a 109-101 loss to the Heat Friday night in Miami.

A win tonight would give the Celtics two victories in Orlando this season and a sweep of the season series. Boston took the first game, played at the Amway Center, by a score of 116-110, and the second game, played at TD Garden, 97-84.

Those two victories will surely give the C’s some confidence heading into Saturday night’s matchup. What also may help their cause is the fact that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are expected to play.

Pierce and Garnett both sat out Friday night’s game due to sore left ankles. Doc Rivers said he expects both to play tonight to help the C’s get back on track before their final home game of the season on Tuesday.

The presence of those two players will drastically impact the C’s. They pump the team with offense and defense and make Boston’s rotation much deeper.

The Celtics lagged without those two players last night, particularly on defense. Miami shot 54.9 percent from the field and made 52.2 percent of its 3-pointers. Those defensive numbers won’t lead to wins for Boston.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce's return to the lineup will surely help the Celtics out at both ends of the floor.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

The good news for Boston is that its opponent tonight is quite different when it comes to talent and abilities compared to its previous opponent. The likelihood of Orlando hitting those incredible shooting numbers is minimal.

The Magic have built up a strong core of youngsters in their first season without Dwight Howard. That talent, however, is raw and hasn’t led to much success. Orlando has the second-worst record in the NBA and is very limited offensively, ranking 24th in the league in scoring and 19th in field goal percentage.

With all of that being said, Boston can’t sleepwalk through this game, as Orlando has several players who can be dangerous. Chief among those players are Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris.

Vucevic’s 11.9 rebounds per game ranks behind only Howard in the NBA, and he’s also scoring 12.9 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting. Harris, meanwhile, has averaged 16.9 PPG and 8.8 RPG since being acquired by the Magic on Feb. 21.

Those two players must have eaten the same breakfast before they helped Orlando beat Milwaukee on Wednesday. They finished with nearly identical stat lines that were shockingly impressive. Vucevic logged 30 points and 20 rebounds, while Harris poured in 30 points and 19 rebounds. That’s a whole lot of production.

Orlando’s two rising youngsters accumulated those statistics against an underwhelming Bucks team. The Celtics are a very different story. Boston, with Pierce and KG back in the fold, is full of talented vets and it desperately wants to leave Florida with a victory under its belt.

Green’s Health

Jeff Green went down hard Friday night after throwing down a monster dunk against the Heat. He landed on his left arm and exited the contest moments later, never to return. Green said after the game that he would be ready to play tonight despite temporarily losing feeling in the left arm.

Boston’s emerging forward may have said he’ll be ready to go, but it’s unreasonable to expect him to be fully healthy for this game. He’ll surely have some lingering effects from last night’s fall.

There’s also a chance that Rivers won’t even play him. Rivers said last night that he may rest Green at some point before the season ends, and there may be no better time to do so than tonight.

Bass on the Glass

We know that Garnett and Shavlik Randolph are always going to attack the glass for the Celtics. Tonight, Boston absolutely needs Brandon Bass to do the same.

Bass will play a critical role in Boston’s ability to stay competitive in the rebounding department. Orlando is a very strong rebounding team and Harris, whom Bass will be defending, is a big part of that.

Fortunately for the C’s, Bass has been much more plugged in on the glass lately. He has grabbed an average of 6.4 RPG over his last five contests and he grabbed a game-high nine boards last night. Boston needs him to approach double-digits in that category again tonight.

Boston’s Bench Play

The Magic don’t have a deep bench, but the Celtics didn’t seem to have one last night, either. Boston’s bench totaled just 14 points during the loss in Miami while two of its regular reserves, Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee, got spot starts.

Crawford and Lee combined to score 38 points as starters in Miami. The C’s would love to see similarly impressive numbers from that pair again tonight as they return to their reserve roles. Likewise, Boston needs to get Jason Terry’s shot back on track and lean on Shavlik Randolph for productive minutes down low.