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Preview: Magic at Celtics, Game 40

Over the years the Celtics [1] and Magic have had an underrated, but energetic, rivalry. The Magic knocked the Celtics out in the 2009 playoffs and the Celtics returned the favor last season. They have played on Christmas Day two years running and there have been the kind of matchups (Dwight Howard [2] vs. Kendrick Perkins [3], Rashard Lewis vs. Kevin Garnett [4]) that have marked their games with the sort of in-game strategic maneuvers that hard-core hoops fans enjoy.

That might be why this rivalry exists mainly on the court and not in the press. Doc Rivers [5] was one of the first coaches to catch on that the 2009 Magic had turned a corner and become a legitimate challenger. The respect has worked both ways as each side has recognized the other as their most formidable conference foe.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been some sparks, but it’s been relatively peaceful between the two teams. As opposed to say, the Celtics and Lakers or Magic and Heat.

Perhaps that’s why the Celtics, and presumably Orlando, are not putting much emphasis on the outcome of Monday night game. They both know that while the result may be a significant signpost for where they are right now, there’s a ton of difference when right now is Jan. 17 and later when it really matters.

“The games don’€™t literally have meaning, but guys get fired up for games like this,” River said Sunday at practice. “I don’€™t know about our guys, I know the other team does for sure. I like games like this because I think it’€™s good for us.”

That comment could have been taken as an indirect slap, but the feeling here is that Rivers intended it more for his team. The Celtics have been treading water since late December. To their credit they have done so better than last season when the injuries began to take hold.

Since beating the 76ers on Dec. 22 to run their winning streak to 14 games, the Celtics have gone 7-5. The first loss came against Orlando on Christmas in a game that was ragged to say the least. “That game down there, I don’€™t think any team was proud of the way they played,” Rivers said. “I thought both teams were proud of the way they competed. It just was not played very well at all.”

Both teams are fighting for position. The Celtics hope to get Garnett back tonight, which would go a long way toward solving their emerging frontcourt depth issue, while the Magic recently lost two straight after running off nine consecutive wins. It’s a big game in that regard as both teams are trying to establish some consistency through the dog days of January.

MAGIC (26-14, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 107.7 (Points per 100 possessions, 12th)

Defensive Rating: 102.0 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 3rd)

Pace: 92.2 (Possessions per game, 18th)

Likely Starters: Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson [6], Hedo Turkoglu [7], Brandon Bass [8], Dwight Howard

Injuries: Malik Allen (Ankle, out), Daniel Orton (Knee, out), Jason Williams [9] (Foot, out)

CELTICS (30-9, 6-4, LAST 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.8 (10th)

Defensive Rating: 100.5 (2nd)

Pace: 90.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo [10], Ray Allen [11], Paul Pierce [12], Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal [13]

Injuries: Garnett (Strained calf, probable), Shaquille O’Neal (Strained adductor, questionable), Marquis Daniels [14] (Back, probable), Semih Erden (Groin, probable), Jermaine O’Neal [15] (Knee, out), Delonte West [16] (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) 

KEY MATCHUP: Turkoglu vs. Pierce

We’re cheating a little bit with this one since the most important matchup is whoever winds up guarding Howard for the Celtics. That will dictate how the rest of this game unfolds.

But, Turkoglu and Pierce is one of the most underrated matchups in the league. For starters, they are oddly similar. Pierce has said in the past that Turkoglu reminds of himself. They’re both creative, physical playmakers who don’t back down from the confrontation.

As it turned out, the Magic’s decision to bring Turkoglu back was the most important chip in the massive eight-player trades they pulled off with Phoenix and Washington. The ancillary benefit — more playing time for Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson [17] — has been just as important, but Turkoglu has played better than any of the other players in the deals.


1. Will Garnett play?

All indications point to yes, but the Celtics are willing to be extra-cautious with Garnett, no matter how many other players are injured. Like the rest of the big four, Garnett’s absence has consequences beyond what he delivers on his own and his return would also allow Glen Davis [18] to switch back to his role as sixth man. That would help alleviate some of the strain on the injury-ravaged frontcourt.

2. How many players will the Celtics have?

At most they will have 11, but it’s more likely they will have as few as ten. Look at the injury list above. It contains the names of no fewer than seven players and doesn’t include Rajon Rondo who acknowledged Friday that he is still not 100 percent. It also doesn’t include Avery Bradley [19] who was assigned to the team’s D-League affiliate in Maine. Depth could be a major issue, particularly if Howard gets one or more of the Celtics’ centers in foul trouble.

3. Defending the 3-point line

No team relies on the 3-pointer more than Orlando. In their Christmas Day game the Magic shot 11-for-29 from beyond the arc, while the Celtics were only 4-for-17. That was the key difference as both teams struggled for their offense. The Celtics will have to aware of everyone not named Bass or Howard.