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Do You Believe in Magic? Celtics-Magic Preview

11.20.09 at 8:40 am ET
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They’re the reason the Green reloaded.

After a Game 7 loss to the Magic ended the Celtics’ season last year, Boston went into the offseason with a clear objective: Get deeper. The series loss to the Magic exposed a clear weakness within the Celtics team, specifically a lack of depth at the big positions. Boston stormed into the offseason guns-a-blazing, signing Rasheed Wallace and Shelden Williams to give them depth at the bigs, and even grabbing Marquis Daniels to add both scoring and defense off the bench.

The Magic exposed the Celtics’ weaknesses. The Magic played a major role in pushing the Celtics to reload and retool their bench, and now they have to face the beast they helped create.

In a much-anticipated rematch, the two teams will return to the court where they met for their decisive Game 7 just four short months ago, and perhaps some will view this as a chance to start settling a score.

That being said, at this point in the season, a lot has changed between the two teams. For Boston, there are the aforementioned changes to the bench and the return to health of Kevin Garnett. Meanwhile in Orlando, Hedo Turkoglu is out, Vince Carter is in, and Jameer Nelson is back on the shelf.

Personnel moves aside, both these teams are proving again in 2010 that they are the class of the East, sitting near the top of the conference with identical 9-3 records. On Friday night, though, the Celtics will have revenge on their mind.

Here’s how things stack up heading into the game:

Recent Performance:

Clash of the titans Neither team comes into tomorrow night’s game on any type of tear, but if you had to give an edge, you’d certainly give it to the Magic. Orlando rolls into Friday’s match up a winner of three in a row and four of its last five, the most recent victory a 108-94 beating of the Oklahoma City Thunder at home. The Celtics, however, snapped a two-game skid with a win on Wednesday night, defeating the Warriors 109-95 after dropping two in a row following an 8-1 start. But either way you slice it, both the Celtics and Magic are 9-3 and have had strong starts to the season. Regardless of how each has done in the last handful of games, it’s a collision of two of the East’s best.

Head to Head

Opening act – This will be the first meeting between the two teams thus far in 2009-10, but last year they met a total of 11 times, with the Magic winning six. The season series was tied at two before the teams collided in the postseason, a series that the Magic won 4-3, dominating Boston 101-82 in the Game 7 finale at the Garden.

Scouting Report

Defense wins championships It’s no secret what makes either team tick. For the Magic, it’s the dominant inside presence of Dwight Howard, followed by the slick shooting of his outside men, though this year Carter has slightly altered that perception. For the Green, it’s the same old Big Three, perhaps even the Big Four thanks to Rajon Rondo’s emergence. With both teams, the multiple scoring threats they present are challenging to opponents, and the difference is sure to be held on the defensive side of the floor. Whichever team can play better defense inside the paint and outside will win the game.

Key Statistic

Rasheed Wallace The offseason acquisition comes into Friday night averaging 10.5 points off the bench, solid scoring from a position that gave the Celtics little production last season. Wallace is a new wrinkle for the Celtics, something the Magic will have to account for.

Vince Carter Exit Hedo Turkoglu. Enter Vince Carter, who is second on the Magic with 17.1 points per game, only one point behind heralded anchor Dwight Howard. Many were concerned with how Carter would fit in the Magic system that seemed to be a dump and launch from beyond the arc. So far, though, Carter has jelled to perfection and has become a key part of an Orlando offense that is going to have to have its ‘A’ game if it wants to crack a stout Celtics defense that’s allowing 88.8 points a game, second in the league.

Key Match-Up

Howard vs. Perkins – It’s the matchup we all focused on last year, for obvious reasons. It’s no secret that Howard is the motor on which the Magic offense runs. Number 12 dominated last postseason through and through, until he reached Boston. The Celtics possess one of the few centers in the NBA who has the ability to make Howard earn each and every shot he takes, and by using his sheer size and ability, Kendrick Perkins could be a wrench in the Magic’s gears. His only problem, of course, is his tendency to drift into foul trouble, which would disrupt the Celtics’ plan of having him bang bodies all night with Howard down low. If he can stay out of foul trouble, however, Boston will have a much easier time dispatching the Magic.

Health/Injuries

Familiar territory – The Celtics have been relatively healthy, aside from losing Glen “Big Baby” Davis before the season began. The Magic, however, are back at square one, losing guard Jameer Nelson yet again, this time to knee surgery. Last season Orlando was without Dwight Howard’s wingman for the better part of the regular season, though Nelson did reappear late in the playoffs.

Kiss the Rings

Tale of two teams — In their history, the Boston Celtics have 17 NBA championships to their name. The Orlando Magic have 0.

Quotable

The Truth comes out Last year’s playoff series was a great one to watch. But that doesn’t mean it sat well with Celtics captain Paul Pierce. After the Magic went on to lose to the Lakers in the 2009 Finals, Pierce had this to say about the Orlando-Los Angeles series on his Twitter account:

“Looked like a German shepherd vs. a poodle. That’s OK the Rottweiler Celtics will b back in 2010.”

The Captain didn’t stop there. Pierce then went on to claim that the Celtics are the best team in the NBA when healthy — a statement the defending Eastern Conference champion Magic aren’t going to take lightly:

“Before the season even started last year, I was asked, ‘What is going to stop y’all from winning it all? The first thing I said was, ‘If we’re healthy, we’re going to win it all.’ And I’m going to say it again: ‘If we are healthy, we are going to win it all. I honestly believe that. I think we’re the best team in the NBA, healthy.”

All talking aside, Friday night’s game is bound to be a great one, simply because of the recent history between the two teams. And while it’s nice to see the confidence that Pierce displays regarding Boston’s Eastern Conference foes, it’s important to remember how last season ended up.

Then again, the Celtics did leave their Big Ticket at home last year.

They’ll be sure to bring it on Friday.

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