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Celtics not Magic’s biggest problem 03.25.09 at 12:34 am ET
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Boston Celtics (54-18) @ Orlando Magic (52-18)
8:00PM EST, ESPN

The Orlando Magic established themselves as a contender early on this season, positioning Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics as a possible Eastern Conference Semifinals ‘€“ or even Finals — match up. But before the Magic can think about playing the role of spoiler, they have their own issues to take care of first ‘€“ the Detroit Pistons.

‘€œWe can’t focus in on how they’ve played us in the past,’€ said Magic center Dwight Howard. ‘€œThis is going to be a different year for us in the postseason if we continue to do the things that we do on a night in, night out basis.’€

Over the past two seasons the Magic have made early exits from the playoffs at the hands of the Pistons. In 2007 they were swept 4-0 in the first round. Last season, in spite of earning their best record in over 10 years, they fell 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With less than a month left in the regular season and Eastern Conference rankings changing every night, the Magic could very well face the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs.

‘€œI think mentally we’ve got to get over that hill, I guess, that they present to us,’€ said Howard. ‘€œThey’re a very physical team, they get away with it. They know how to score. They play great defense. And we know how to beat those guys, but it’s just going to take us to come out and do it. We know the way to beat them is to run, not let the defense set up, and then play help defense, and then rebound the basketball. So they’re a team that we can beat. We just have to be mentally on our game.’€

This season was the perfect opportunity for the Magic to reverse their luck. They have been soaring behind Howard, beating the Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Lakers. The Pistons, on the other hand, have plummeted since the Allen Iverson trade. But the Magic went 0-3 against the Pistons this season. The third loss came just a day after defeating the Celtics in Boston this month.

‘€œAny team is liable to get beat any night. But you’ve got to be able to beat both teams,’€ said Howard. ‘€œBoston is the world champion so they’re a tough team. And you’ve got Detroit, who’s been beating us like they’ve got our number. I think it’s just a mental block. It’s the same thing that happened to us with the (Atlanta) Hawks. They would always beat us until we got over that — ok, we can beat this team — then that’s when we started beating them. But we have to do that against a good team in Detroit.’€

The Magic did not capitalize on the Pistons’ struggles. They are not focused on exploiting the Celtics’ either. While they could view Kevin Garnett’s restricted playing time and the recent depletion of the Celtics bench as a window of opportunity to steal the second seed, the Magic are paying more attention to their own team.

‘€œWe’ve just got to continue to do things to win games,’€ Howard said. ‘€œWe can’t really focus in on how Cleveland or Boston’s playing. They’re still good teams without those key guys, so we’ve just got to come out every night and continue to get better. Hopefully we’re hot during the playoffs, and the team’s that hot during the playoffs is going to win.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic,
Magic a problem without KG 03.08.09 at 4:37 pm ET
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The Boston Celtics have made winning without Kevin Garnett look easy. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers? Not a problem. Shaq and the Phoenix Suns? No sweat. Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets? Blowout. But then there is Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. That’s where the Celtics run into trouble.

The Celtics were 8-2 this season without Garnett (knee) heading into Sunday’s game. Last year they went 9-2 without him. The Cs have hardly missed a beat, except when playing the Magic. In spite of their success, they are 0-2 against the Magic without Garnett.

‘€œThey’re a tough team with or without KG,’€ Dwight Howard said after the Magic’s 86-79 win. (RECAP HERE) ‘€œSo I think the biggest thing is just trying to match their play on both ends and be physical with them like they’re going to be physical with us. Also knowing that KG is one of their big guys on the defensive end, just go at them and just make them pay.’€

The Celtics first loss to the Magic without Garnett (96-93) came on January 27, 2008. Unable to stop the Magic’s big men, Howard posted 18 points and 16 rebounds while Rashard Lewis scored 15 points. On Sunday, Howard posted 18 points and 15 rebounds with Lewis adding 15 points.

‘€œ[Garnett’s] a good player and he plays hard,’€ said Hedo Turkoglu. ‘€œWe just try to take advantage of it. Tonight we just tried to move the ball and make a lot of free throws and make the big men play. Rashard and Dwight took care of the mismatches.’€

It isn’t just the absence of Garnett’s 16 points and nearly nine boards a game that helps the Magic. The void of his intensity and energy cannot be denied.

‘€œHe’s pretty much their heart and soul of the team,’€ Tony Battie said. ‘€œYou can’t forget about (Kendrick) Perkins and Big Baby and (Leon) Powe. They do a great job of filling in for him but it’s hard to replace an All-Star in this league. Not only that, but just his presence and leadership on the court, it’s hard to make up for it. Physically those guys can fill the void but his presence is something they probably miss.’€

Both teams were missing pieces on Sunday. The Celtics were also without Rajon Rondo (ankle), Tony Allen (thumb), and Brian Scalabrine (concussion). Glen Davis left the game with a sprained right ankle. The Magic were without Jameer Nelson (shoulder), who also missed last season’s win.

Regardless of their 2-0 record, the Magic still give the Celtics credit.

‘€œAll five guys, whoever steps on the floor, they’re all dangerous,’€ said Howard. ‘€œPaul Pierce, Ray Allen, those guys can light it up. Their bigs are getting better every day. Kendrick did a Kareem shake tonight. It shocked me, but that just shows me that those guys have really been working on their game and they’ve gotten a lot better.’€

The Magic’s win brings them within two games of the Celtics for second place in the Eastern Conference. The teams will meet again on March 25 in Orlando.

Read More: Big Baby, Brian Scalabrine, Dwight Howard,
Celtics-Magic Game Blog: Second Quarter at 12:39 pm ET
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At the start of the second quarter … Magic 22, Celtics 15

– The Magic have scored 16 of their first 22 points in the paint. They’ve done more damage in the lane than the Celtics have done on the floor, and Howard has only played six minutes.

– This could be a big game for Gabe Pruitt. With only Marbury ahead of him at the PG, Pruitt has his first shot in a while to prove himself.  He has not played since February 25 against the Los Angeles Clippers. That night he was arrested for suspicion of DUI and served a team-imposed two-game suspension.

– Both teams are going heavy on the bigs. The Celtics have Kendrick Perkins and Mikki Moore going up against Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat.

– The Celtics have scored just two points in four minutes. And the faint boos have already begun.

– There have been 18 fouls called in the first 18 minutes of the game.

– Howard’s on the bench with three personal fouls. Now is the time for the Celtics to do some damage at the basket. The Cs also have an advantage with J.J. Redick guarding Ray Allen. Redick is not known for his defense.

– The Magic’s deal for Rafer Alston did not get much buzz at the trade deadline but this acquisition is a difference maker in this game. Alston brings quickness to the Magic that the Celtics are having trouble stopping without Rajon Rondo.

– Pierce’s dunk past Pietrus and Battie has the crowd on their feet. The harsh reality is, the Celtics are still down by nearly 20.

- At the half … Magic 51, Celtics 33

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, Kendrick Perkins
Are the Magic a threat? 01.23.09 at 12:01 am ET
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The Orlando Magic had the best record in the East, so it was only fair to say they were the best team. At least that was the credit the Boston Celtics were giving them before Thursday’s match up. But of the 41 games the Magic had played entering the game, only one had been against the Celtics. It was a loss.

The Magic have said they wanted to beat the best to be the best. In the last two seasons they lost to the Detroit Pistons early in the playoffs. Now the Celtics are the measuring stick in the East and after Thursday’s 90-80 loss to the defending champs (RECAP HERE), the Magic have failed to stack up twice.

It’s true the Magic haven’t received all the recognition they deserve nearly halfway through the season. Despite winning 16 of their last 19 games, they have flown relatively low under the radar and the talk of the East is still LeBron James vs. the Celtics. But there is a reason for that. Even with one of the most dominating big men in the game, the Magic do not have what it takes to unseat the Celtics in the postseason.

Leadership
There is no denying the power and talent of Dwight Howard. He is a beast on the glass and can body through the paint with authority. But the reality is Howard is 23, only three months older than Rajon Rondo. The Celtics point guard has three proven veterans to turn to whereas the veterans on the Magic turn to Howard.

On Thursday the Celtics held Howard scoreless for the entire second and third quarters. In that time he picked up four fouls and had to limit his defensive intensity late in the fourth before fouling out with 2:30 to go. The glaring question is, can Howard lead a team in a seven-game series?

Point Guard Play
Jameer Nelson is having a breakthrough year, averaging 17 points up from 11 last season, and is finally emerging as the point guard the Magic have been anticipating since 2004. However surging performances aren’t always consistent. It’s been said that as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. The same can be said for Nelson and the Magic.

Rajon Rondo (through 44 games)
Wins: 11.9 PPG, 54.8% FG, 8.2 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 PF
Losses: 7.0 PPG, 32.4% FG, 7.3 APG, 4.1 RPG, 3.0 PF

Jameer Nelson (through 36 games)
Wins: 18.1 PPG, 54.4% FG, 52.1% 3PG, 5.7 APG, 2.9 PF
Losses: 12.9 PPG, 37.4% FG, 19.4% 3PG, 4.0 APG, 4.1 PF

Long-Range Game
The Magic are the best three-point shooting team in the league. They hit an NBA-record 23 treys this month against the Sacramento Kings and entered Thursday’s game shooting 53.9% 3PG in their last five match ups. At some point, though, legs get tired and the finesse can fade, especially in a six or seven-game series.

The Magic’s leading three-point shooter Rashard Lewis may be dangerous from inside and out, but he wasn’t a threat when he only shot one-for-four from long range against the Celtics. The team as a whole shot 7-for-22, which was actually worse than the Celtics 0-for-6 performance. The Cs compensated for their slump by going inside. The Magic, on the other hand, lived and died by the deep three.

The Celtics weren’t wrong for giving the Magic credit. They are one of the hottest teams in the league centered around one of the most exciting players to watch. But the season isn’t even halfway over and the Magic are not prepped for a title run just yet. They wanted to beat the best in the playoffs to be the best, but the first step is beating the best in the regular season.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Orlando Magic
All-Star Voting Update 12.25.08 at 7:06 pm ET
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On Christmas Day the second returns of the 2009 NBA All-Star Game ballots were announced. Dwight Howard continues to lead all votes while Rajon Rondo still struggles to crack the top 10 among all guards. Boston Celtics are bolded below in the Eastern Conference results:

Forwards: LeBron James (Clev) 1,259,764; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 905,506; Yi Jianlian (NJ) 762,162; Chris Bosh (Tor) 500,700; Paul Pierce (Bos) 313,474; Shawn Marion (Mia) 210,040; Hedo Turkoglu (Orl) 137,035; Danny Granger (Ind) 116,238; Josh Smith (Atl) 110,186; Michael Beasley (Mia) 100,257; Tayshaun Prince (Det) 98,262.

Guards: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 1,229,858; Allen Iverson (Det) 858,469; Vince Carter (NJ) 600,087; Ray Allen (Bos) 354,642; Devin Harris (NJ) 267,504; Gilbert Arenas (Wash) 205,223; Derrick Rose (Chi) 203,687; Luke Ridnour (Mil) 197,933; Jose Calderon (Tor) 193,715; Jameer Nelson (Orl) 174,081; Joe Johnson (Atl) 162,772.

Centers: Dwight Howard (Orl) 1,421,882; Samuel Dalembert (Phi) 232,733; Rasheed Wallace (Det) 163,279; Jermaine O’€™Neal (Tor) 147,534; Andrew Bogut (Mil) 112,708; Al Horford (Atl) 107,118; Ben Wallace (Clev) 89,809; Emeka Okafor (Char) 69,015; Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas (Cle) 60,970; Kendrick Perkins (Bos) 54,772; Brendan Haywood (Wash) 28,182.

Read More: Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Sounds of the game… Celtics 107, Magic 88 12.02.08 at 9:36 am ET
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Doc Rivers called Monday night’s game a ‘free speech night’… a game in which he doesn’t have to say a word to his team about its significance. Such was the case as the Celtics took on yet another ‘would-be challenger’ to their Eastern Conference reign. And the Orlando Magic found out what Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Toronto have already realized, knocking the Celtics off the throne won’t be easy. And did you hear what the Magic said??? Listen to the comments below. Dwight Howard and Anthony Johnson were all about giving respect but also wanted people to remember they were without their backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Mickael Pietrus. Doc Rivers acknowledged as much but the Celtics also took Orlando’s best punch in the second quarter before blowing them off the court in the second half – doing exactly what championship teams do that have dreams of repeating.

Doc Rivers was happy with the balance.

Rivers didn’t have to say a word to his team on ‘free speech’ night.

Rivers jokes about the eight technical fouls called in the game.

Paul Pierce on his 17-point third quarter.

Orlando’s Dwight Howard gave it up to the Celtics, on this night at least.

Orlando guard Anthony Johnson said the Celtics smacked them but he wants to see how they would fare against Boston at full strength.

Johnson said they will remember this game.

Read More: Anthony Johnson, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Dwight Howard
Memories Still Golden for Howard 12.01.08 at 11:39 pm ET
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Dwight Howard isn’t living in the past. He just isn’t ready to put it behind him yet.

It’s been more than three months since he won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics with the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team and he relives the glory every day. Howard brings his medal on the road with him as he tries to capture another piece of hardware ‘€“ the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

‘€œIt’s to remind me of something I accomplished this summer, a goal I’ve been wanting to have since I was little,’€ Howard said following the Orlando Magic-Boston Celtics game. ‘€œWatching the Dream Team I always wanted a gold medal, and I have one now. I take it and it reminds me every day to keep pushing for something because reach for the stars and you might get it.’€

If Howard needs another reminder of Olympic success, he can just look down the Magic bench. Original Dream Team member Patrick Ewing is his assistant coach.

Read More: Celtics, Dwight Howard, Magic, Patrick Ewing
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