Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics: Game Preview

Mo Bamba
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- Fresh off two straight victories, the Orlando Magic have the opportunity to put together their longest winning streak since the trade deadline.

The Magic (21-44) will attempt to notch their third straight triumph when they host the Boston Celtics (34-31) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

Orlando has received a number of impressive performances from its youngsters over this recent stretch. Cole Anthony posted a career-high 26 points and knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer in the team’s thrilling victory over the Grizzlies. Mo Bamba recorded career bests in points (22) and rebounds (15), while R.J. Hampton did the same in assists (10) and blocks (two) the following contest against the Detroit Pistons.

Now, their growth and improvement will be put to the test against a hungry Celtics squad that’s fighting to climb their way out of the NBA Play-In Tournament and earn a playoff berth by being a sixth seed or higher in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“For us, it’s about establishing habits and figuring out who we need to be going forward every night,” said backup point guard Chasson Randle, who scored a season-high 18 points against the Pistons. “So, we have to do our jobs, and every night we step out there we’re trying to win. If we happen to spoil something for them (as a result of) our success then so be it.”

The Magic will welcome back head coach Steve Clifford, who missed the last six games due to health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19, against the Celtics. Clifford, who remained asymptomatic throughout the process, credited the vaccine for his quick recovery.

“(Assistant coach) Ty (Corbin) and the coaching staff, they did a great job,” said Clifford. “I think the message has been the same ever since the decision was made to start this rebuild. Get better (and) make progress. And I’m hopeful that that’s what the next seven games will be for also. To play with intensity, stay together, and play with purpose.”

All of those elements will be imperative against a Celtics team that features Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jayson Tatum. The All-Star forward is coming off a week where he tied Larry Bird’s single game franchise scoring record with a 60-point effort in an overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs.

“The level of opponent (tonight) goes way up,” Clifford said. “It’ll be more challenging, but that’s what these seven games are for, and I think guys have had a good attitude about it.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Just his competitive spirit. There’s nothing more important when you play eighty-two games than a guy that you never have to worry if he’s going to try hard. You never take that for granted when you’re a coach. It was a given with him. He played hurt, he played when he was really hurt, (and) was always ready to play and always into the game plan. He badly wanted to win. He brings intangibles to a team that make him a valuable player besides his pick-and-roll game, the way that he can score, his size, and things like that. I’m like a lot of guys, I’ve been very fortunate with some of the experiences I’ve had in this league, and being around those guys – look, the stretch two years ago, that’ll be one of my fondest memories. The win in Boston to clinch (a playoff berth). Going (22-9 to finish the season). And he, obviously, was a big, big part of that.” – Clifford on what he appreciated about coaching Evan Fournier, who was sent from Orlando to Boston in a trade-deadline deal earlier this season.

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Wendell Carter Jr. (left eye abrasion), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle), James Ennis III (sore right calf), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), Chuma Okeke (sprained left ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot pain), and Terrence Ross (back spasms) are out.

For Boston, Tristian Thompson (left pectoral strain) and Jaylen Brown (right ankle sprain) are out.

KEY STAT: The Magic signed free agent guard Sindarius Thornwell to a two-way contract, on Tuesday.

Originally selected in the second round (48th overall) of the 2017 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, Thornwell has played in 153 career NBA regular season games (19 starts) with the L.A. Clippers and Pelicans, averaging 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game.

Thornwell played and started in 132 career games during four seasons at the University of South Carolina.

Via NBA encyclopedia Josh Cohen, his best performance in college came during his senior year on Feb. 7, 2017 when he accomplished something rarely done in college or the pros. He notched a 40-20 game (44 points, 21 rebounds) in a quadruple-overtime contest against Alabama. In that game, he took 33 free throws, making an SEC-record 25 of them. The player who held that record prior to him was LSU’s Pete Maravich, who knocked down 22 foul shots in a game against Florida in 1969.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Celtics.com writer and reporter Marc D'Amico, who worked alongside me in Orlando before heading up to Boston. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the Cs.

Savage: "What have you seen from former Magic player Evan Fournier since he's joined the Celtics and how's he recovering from his bout with COVID-19?"

D'Amico: "Most importantly, a team-first mindset and a will to play through challenging situations. He just revealed Sunday night that the lingering symptoms of his COVID-19 diagnosis include concussion-like symptoms, issues with his depth perception, and issues with his ability to focus. Those are scary symptoms, and damaging symptoms for a basketball player’s effectiveness, but Fournier has committed to playing through it and he’s starting to do so at a high level. Since his arrival, there has not been a single indication that he puts ‘me’ before ‘team.’ He just wants to win, regardless of his role."

Savage: "Jayson Tatum was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week coming off that sixty-point performance. As someone who watched it closely, just how impressive was that outing and the recent stretch he's put together?"

D'Amico: "This is the guy we saw over the final couple of months of the last season’s regular season, prior to the hiatus. He is dominating and scoring at will, but it’s not only that: he’s also passing the ball at a high level and not forcing things. In fact, his hockey-assist to Jaylen Brown during crunch time is what helped Boston pull off that miraculous comeback last week. The other key to his success? Drawing contact, rather than going around contact. He averaged 7.3 free throw attempts per game during April, which is the second-highest monthly average of his career, trailing only his sizzling February from last season (7.6 FTA)."

Savage: "The Celtics currently sit just outside the sixth seed and fall into the play-in tournament category if the season ended today. What do you think it's going to take for them to surpass a team like Miami, Atlanta or New York over their last seven games and lock themselves into a playoff berth?"

D'Amico: "Well, they have consecutive home games against Miami this weekend, so they can take that into their own hands. They also have one remaining away game against New York. But really, it’s about taking care of business and winning games that they should win based upon talent. Over the last couple of weeks, Boston has lost matchups with Chicago, an undermanned Charlotte team, and an Oklahoma City team that was riding a 14-game losing streak. When you’re fighting for playoff positioning, you can’t lose those games. New York, meanwhile, is taking care of business, while the Hawks and Heat have been up and down. Boston will need to follow in New York’s footsteps and win the games it’s supposed to win – like tonight – and also plug those matchups with Miami and New York into the win column in order to climb up the standings and avoid a play-in game."

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