Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics: Game Preview

Markelle Fultz
by Dan Savage

Date: Sunday, August 9, 2020

Time: 5 p.m. ET

Location: ADVENTHEALTH ARENA, Orlando, FL

TV: FOX Sports Florida

Mobile: FOX Sports GO

Radio: 96.9 FM the Game / 98.1 SALSA Y MAS

ORLANDO -- As the Orlando Magic set forth on their restart journey into the NBA Campus at Walt Disney World, head coach Steve Clifford set forth two goals for his squad: Secure a playoff berth without any play-in scenario and develop a style of play that would make them a factor in the postseason.

The Magic checked the first box off that list on Friday when they locked up a postseason berth for the second straight season – the first time that’s been accomplished by the franchise in eight years – when the New Orleans Pelicans eliminated the Washington Wizards from playoff contention with a 118-107 victory.

“It’s a great accomplishment for us after all the years of struggle that we had,” Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. “To make it two years in a row, it’s great. Considering, this year, we had a lot of injuries, had to fight through a lot of stuff, but we stuck with it. We were able to get in, so we’re very, very happy and (I’m) very, very proud of my teammates and all the work we did and the coaching staff as well.”

While Orlando would have certainly preferred to earn its way in with a win of its own, its attention now turns to climbing up the seeding ladder – it currently trails the Brooklyn Nets by 1 ½ games for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference – and once again start playing in a manner that would make them a threat in the playoffs.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” Markelle Fultz said. “It was one of the goals we had at the beginning of the season, just to make the playoffs, and now that we've clinched a spot in the playoffs, we have to use these remaining days to get ready to make noise in the playoffs. So, that’s what we’re locked in on.”

If the old proverb of “iron sharpens iron” rings true, Orlando (32-38) will get an opportunity to hone its essential tool chest for postseason success against another high-caliber opponent on Sunday when it goes head-to-head with the Boston Celtics (46-23), who currently hold the third spot in the East.

While it’s certainly a cause for concern that Orlando has dropped three straight games, all against top six seeds in the Eastern Conference, it’s still coming off a stretch in which it’s delivered a high-level offensive output while managing to fight through a number of injuries.

Since Feb. 10, the Magic have scored 110-plus points 12 times, 120-plus points eight times and 130-plus points five times. They also possess the league’s highest offensive rating (116.5) during that span.

In and Out: The shorthanded Magic are hoping to get a few hands back on deck in the near future. However, Aaron Gordon (strained left hamstring) and Michael Carter-Williams (strained tendon, left foot) are both still day-to-day and listed as questionable for Orlando’s matchup with Boston. Clifford stated that while the team would certainly love to have them for the final three seeding games, the priority for both players is to have them at full health for Game 1 of the playoffs. On Sunday, the team also announced that Evan Fournier will also miss the matchup due to an illness (non-Covid-19).

Quote to Note: “It’s a big deal. Our goal at our initial meeting this year was to qualify for the playoffs and be playing in a manner where we could be a factor. So that goal remains our goal. I think the guys did a terrific job. If you look at the number of injuries that we’ve had, some difficult times during parts of the schedule and they hung in there and we kept playing better. We were playing our best right before the play stoppage and we would have had – had we finished the season – we would have had the second easiest schedule. Again, we’ve had more than our share of injuries this year, but still we had a good practice today and I think we will play well tomorrow.” – Steve Clifford

Rivals Report: For this Rivals Report, I reached out to Celtics.com’s Marc D'Amico to answer three questions about his squad. We used to be teammates here at OrlandoMagic.com before he migrated north and he has the unique perspective of having worked for both franchises. Here’s his breakdown of the current state of the Celtics:

What they’re doing well:

D'Amico: Individual success has led to team success thus far for the Celtics, which is a clear indication that this offense is different than offenses from years past under Brad Stevens. The Celtics used to rely on ball movement to score the ball. Now they instead rely heavily on individual playmakers to get the job done. Jaylen Brown, who is averaging a team-best 22.2 points per game while shooting 45 percent from long range during seeding games, has been doing so at a high level. Jayson Tatum, too, has excelled after a slow start, and other high-level players such as Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker have looked like they’re in mid-season form. Boston is shooting the ball at a 40.5 percent clip as a team from long distance inside the bubble, which opens things up for these playmakers to attack the rim. The C’s are a very tough team to defend right now, hence their offensive rating of 121.0 inside the bubble, which ranks second among the 22 teams still playing.

What they’re working on:

D'Amico: While Boston’s offense has been elite, the defense has left something to be desired. Prior to Friday’s dominant win over the Raptors, during which the C’s limited Toronto to 42.7 percent shooting, Boston was not living up to expectations when it came to ball pressure on the perimeter. This defense is built upon the ability for all five players to switch and take away airspace on the perimeter, which disrupts offensive flow. Without that pressure through the first four seeding games, opponents shot the ball at a high clip and regularly got to the basket. That wasn’t a very promising trend with regard to the team’s chances in the upcoming playoffs. But that trend was halted Friday night against Toronto, which was a promising sign for Boston.

Focus for their final three seeding games:

D'Amico: The Celtics will prioritize defense over these final four seeding games. They know that their offense will be fine. They also know that in order to compete for a title, they need to play at a defensive level similar to what they showcased Friday night. Outside of operating at a high level at that end of the court, the next priorities will be to continue developing a rhythm with a fully-healthy lineup (a rarity this season), and to define roles and rotations for the upcoming playoff run.

Get Off The Bench. Get Into the Game. VOTE.

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