Watch It! - Magic at Celtics

Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.

Put on the Big Boy Shoes

Tyler Zeller has proven to be one of Boston’s most physical players. He’ll need to bring his A-game in the physicality department tonight, because he'll be facing off against one of the biggest, toughest centers in the league.

Nikola Vucevic has turned himself into an All-Star caliber player over the past couple of seasons. At seven feet tall and 260 pounds, he loves to bang around the basket. He enters tonight’s game ranked fourth in the league with an average of 11.6 rebounds per game. He can also score on the low block and is averaging 18.3 points a game this season.

Zeller’s numbers are nowhere near those, but he is certainly capable of going toe-to-toe with Vucevic. In fact, each player enters tonight’s game with the exact same player efficiency rating (PER) of 20.2. They are also both seven feet tall, and Zeller is listed as only seven pounds lighter than Vucevic.

Two Teams in the Playoff Picture

Boston and Orlando were lottery-bound from Opening Night on last season. While each locker room believed its team was capable of making the playoffs, there was no realistic chance that either would do so.

This season is different. The C’s and Magic are both competing at a much higher level and are undoubtedly in the playoff picture.

Boston enters tonight’s matchup with an 8-14 record, which falls just a game and a half behind Brooklyn for the East’s final playoff spot. The C’s also have the third-best scoring differential (-1.3) out of the league’s 16 sub-.500 teams, trailing only Oklahoma City (+1.8) and Sacramento (-0.8).

Meanwhile, the Magic enter tonight’s contest a half-game behind the Celtics in the standings. Nearly all of Orlando’s young players have taken a step forward in their development this season. Tobias Harris (18.5 points per game), Victor Oladipo (15.1 PPG) and Evan Fournier (14.4 PPG) are all playing very well. The Magic have also surrounded their young guys with veterans like Ben Gordon and Channing Frye, who are also contributing.

Most casual NBA fans would say that these two teams are in a rebuilding phase, and rightfully so. Rebuilding, however, does not prevent a team from competing for the playoffs.

Keep the Defense Rolling

This season got off to a slow start for Boston because it wasn’t defending at a high level. That seems to be changing, as evidenced by the last two weeks of games. The Celtics have won four of their last seven games thanks in large part to their defense, which has limited opponents to just 41.6 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 percent shooting from 3-point range during that stretch. Those are elite numbers – like top-of-the-NBA-type numbers if they stood for an entire season.

Maintaining such numbers should be an attainable goal for the C’s tonight. Orlando enters this game ranked 26th in the NBA in scoring (93.9 PPG) and 15th in field goal percentage (45.7 percent).

The hope is that the C’s can continue their rise at the defensive end with another solid performance tonight.

Colliding Philosophies

Every coach has a philosophy that he wants to instill in his team. For Brad Stevens, he wants to play with pace and space. For Jaque Vaughn, he wants to slow the game down and play a half court game.

Boston is playing at the league’s highest pace thus far in 2014-15. It is averaging 100.77 possessions per 48 minutes. The only other team in the league breaking triple-digits in that category is Golden State, which has played with a pace of 100.47 this season.

Vaughn’s Magic team is at the other end of the spectrum. Orlando heads into tonight’s contest ranked 23rd in the league in pace, averaging just 94.71 possessions per 48 minutes. That’s a big reason why the Magic don’t score a ton of points.

In reality, these two teams aren’t that far off when it comes to offensive efficiency. It’s just the way they attempt to score points that differs greatly. It should be entertaining to watch these two different philosophies collide.

Bench Play

There is no doubt that the Celtics have an advantage when it comes to reserves. The Celtics have proven veterans in their prime and a high-level youngster, while the Magic have mid-level prospects and a vet whose numbers have diminished greatly over the past few seasons.

Boston’s reserves have scored averaged 37.9 PPG this season, which ranks seventh in the league. They scored 82 points against Washington on Dec. 8 and 61 against Philadelphia on Monday. Kelly Olynyk (11.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG), Brandon Bass (9.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG) and Evan Turner (9.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG) are Boston’s top bench players.

Orlando’s second unit hasn’t been quite as effective. The Magic’s bench ranks 26th in the NBA in scoring with an average of 25.7 PPG. Kyle O’Quinn leads the reserves in scoring with 8.6 PPG.

This will be an area that the Celtics should look to exploit tonight. There is no doubt that Boston’s bench should outplay Orlando’s.

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