Frank Dell'Apa makes a good point. It isn't just the records that count at this time of year.
At stake are playoff seedings. But confidence and bragging rights are also factors that cannot be underestimated in a league in which confidence and verbal jousting sometimes sway the outcome of games.
And the Celtics hold a 2-1 edge over both the Cavaliers and Magic in the four-game season series. In the jockeying for position, teams use the most recent confrontation as motivation.
When the Celtics were near full strength this season, they took 107-88 and 90-80 wins over Orlando. But the Magic recovered for an 86-79 victory over the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics March 8. Orlando will recall that contest for its strong start and blowout-potential 22-point lead; the Celtics will remember their late rally that climaxed with Ray Allen missing a potential tying 3-pointer in the final minute.
"We've been talking about Cleveland and Orlando all year," Allen said after Monday's 90-77 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. "[The Magic] beat us last time here on our floor, so this is a big game for us."
The funny thing is that the Magic are not just focused on the Celtics. As Jessica Camerato points out, they are also preoccupied with the Pistons:
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.
“We can’t focus in on how they’ve played us in the past,” said Magic center Dwight Howard. “This 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.