Beating Celtics Would Be Huge for Magic's Confidence

By Josh Cohen
Jan. 20, 2018

BOSTON – Earlier this week, the Orlando Magic snapped the Minnesota Timberwolves’ five-game winning streak behind a spectacular performance from Evan Fournier, tenacious interior defense from Bismack Biyombo and Khem Birch, and solid bench production.

A couple days later, the Magic erased a 23-point deficit and nearly stunned the Cleveland Cavaliers before falling short in the final seconds. Orlando used balanced scoring – six Magic players scored in double figures – and stout defense in the third quarter to force a thrilling finish.

While wins have been hard to come by the last few weeks, the mood of the team isn’t at all sour. That’s largely because – as head coach Frank Vogel recognizes – the team is playing the right way and with tremendous effort.

When you look at the Magic’s offensive numbers the last several games, it’s quite shocking they don’t have more victories to show for it. Over the last six games, Orlando ranks second in the NBA in assists, second in points in the paint, fifth in points off turnovers, and sixth in second-chance points.

“We’re really playing with the pass,” Vogel said. “Our guys are improving as shooters, but we’ve had a number of situations where we’re really playing with the pass, playing inside-out basketball and not getting the reward with some of our shooters going into mini slumps. That’s part of an NBA season. But I like the way we are moving the basketball.”

A major confidence boost would occur if the Magic can somehow knock off the East-leading Celtics in Boston on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Celtics rank near the top of almost every defensive category. If the Magic can break through that stingy defense, and share the ball like they have done during this recent stretch, they firmly believe that can end a 14-game regular season losing streak in Boston.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said. “We just have to find a way to turn it into wins.”

It remains unknown if Kyrie Irving, who the Celtics acquired this past offseason in a blockbuster trade with the Cavs, will be available. He missed Boston’s last game against Philadelphia with a sore shoulder. The Celtics have lost two in a row after previously winning seven straight.

If Irving remains out, the Celtics will be forced to rely on their younger stars to carry them offensively. Rookie standout Jayson Tatum and second-year up-and-comer Jaylen Brown are the third and fourth leading scorers for the C’s.

“They are really impressive,” Fournier said. “They don’t look like young players. It feels like they are veterans. They have good basketball IQ, they are strong. Definitely a good fit for the Celtics.”

This will be the third of four meetings between the Magic and Celtics. They play again on March 16 at Amway Center.