The Boston Celtics storm into Orlando for an Eastern Conference heavyweight showdown with the Magic, tonight at 8:00pm on TNT.
The Celtics are still fighting to regain their championship composure in the wake of Kevin Garnett's return from a hyperextended right knee, but have managed to scrape out two consecutive wins over the Portland Trailblazers and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Despite their 29-16 record placing them fourth in the Eastern Conference, the Magic have had a roller coaster ride of a January, posting a 7-8 mark through their first 15 games.
While this game could have future implications as to who earns home court advantage throughout the playoffs, for the Celtics, playing well tonight is more about finding a groove heading into tomorrow night's game against an equally difficult Atlanta Hawks team, as well as Sunday's showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers in Boston.
The excitement tonight always stems from the variety of matchups, whether it be Rajon Rondo against Jameer Nelson, Ray Allen against Vince Carter, or Kendrick Perkins handling Dwight Howard. Expect no shortage of one-on-one battles tonight from both the starting five and the bench. As always, keep an eye on Rasheed Wallace garnering some extended time on Howard, as 'Sheed, despite the strength differential, always seems to play Howard well down in the low post.
Since the last time the Celtics played the Magic, Orlando has shuffled its lineup somewhat, moving Mickael Pietrus back into a sixth man role that he filled admirably last season, while inserting Matt Barnes into the starting lineup, which should give Paul Pierce an edge offensively.
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard
Health Check: For the Celtics, guard Marquis Daniels (thumb) is out, while forward Brian Scalabrine (shoulder) is listed as day-to-day.
For the Magic, guard Jameer Nelson (knee) is listed as day-to-day.
Keep It In Mind: In two meetings between these teams this season, the road team has won each game.
Who's Hot: For the Celtics, Rajon Rondo scored 16 points, while tallying 12 assists against the Clippers on Monday.
For the Magic, Dwight Howard posted a monstrous double-double in a loss to the Grizzlies on Monday, with 27 points and 15 rebounds.
Who's Not: For the Celtics, Rasheed Wallace is coming off of a 2-8 performance against Los Angeles on Monday.
For the Magic, Matt Barnes was held scoreless on Monday in 28 minutes of action.
Key Matchup: Kendrick Perkins vs. Dwight Howard
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett vs. Rashard Lewis
Skinny: Rebounding is the key statistic in tonight's game, as Orlando hauls in the fifth most rebounds per game in the league, with a 43.55 mark, compared to the Celtics, who sit 28th in the league with a 39.07 rebounds per game mark. The burden falls on the Celtics' entire front court tonight, beginning with Kendrick Perkins, who will have to do his best keeping Dwight Howard off the boards, but the onus holds true all the way down to Shelden Williams, if he finds the court tonight. Don't count Rajon Rondo out of the rebounding equation either, as he gobbled up a season-high 13 of them against the Magic on Christmas Day.
Also, keep an eye on the Magic's three-point shooting. Orlando attempts over 28 three-pointers per game, and shoots them at a 36.1 percent clip. However, they also allow teams to shoot 36.2 percent from three-point nation against them, which bodes well for shooters like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Eddie House.