The Celtics continue their home stand as they host the Orlando Magic. This is the second of 3 games between these two teams this season. The Celtics won 92-79 in the first matchup on November 3 at Orlando. They will meet one more time on February 6 also at Orlando. the magic are playing in the first of 2 road games and the Celtics are playing in the 3rd game of a 4 game home stand.
The Celtics and Magic played twice in the preseason. The Celtics won the first game 98-97 in Boston with all players available. They lost the second game in Orlando 102-103. Jaylen Brown and Al Horford both missed that game due to being in quarantine for covid. The Celtics won the series 3-0 last season. The Celtics are 71-50 all time against the Magic and 46-15 all time in Boston. The Magic beat the Celtics in the last ever game in the old Boston Garden on May 5, 1995.
The Celtics are 9th in the East and are coming off a win over the Suns, after losing their 3 previous games. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 10-7 at home. They are 11-10 against Eastern Conference teams. The Magic are 14th in the East, with just the Pistons having a worse record. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and they are 5-16 on the road. They have lost their last 4 games and are 4-21 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Magic have been hit hard by injuries and covid with 8 players on the injury list. They originally had 11 players on the list with 3 players who had been questionable being made available the afternoon before game time. Cole Anthony (ankle), Michael Carter-Williams (ankle), Jonathan Isaac (knee), Robin Lopez (illness), E’Twaun Moore (knee) and Jalen Suggs (thumb) are all out with injuries. Markelle Fultz and Chuma Okeke are out and in health and safety protocols. Mo Bamba, , Hassani Gravett and Mychal Mulder were originally questionable due to conditioning after covid and are now available. I’m guessing that Mo Bamba will return to the Magic’s starting lineup, replacing Freddie Gillespie, who has been starting in his place.
Magic starter Tim Frazier is playing on his second 10 day contracts. Freddie Gillespie, Hassani Gravett and Admiral Schofield are also playing on their second 10 day contract for the Magic. With players returning for the Celtics, the 10 day contracts of Joe Johnson, CJ Miles and Justin Jackson have expired and they are no longer with the team. Al-Farouq Aminu and Norvel Pelle are still with the Celtics on 10 day contracts.
The Celtics are as healthy as they have been since the latest wave of covid has hit the NBA. Aaron Nesmith and Enes Freedom both remain out in the health and safety protocols. Dennis Schroder and Bruno Fernando are out of health and safety protocols but are listed as questionable. Jayson Tatum is also out of the protocols and is questionable for this game as he works on his conditioning. Robert Williams is questionable with a bruised toe.
I always like to think positively and so have Tatum and Timelord in the starting lineup. lf Tatum can’t play, I expect that Grant Williams will once again get the start in his place. If Timelord is out, then Romeo will likely start and Al will move to center. Mo Bamba and Mychal Mulder are both questionable due to conditioning after covid. I have listed the Magic’s starters from their game notes. If Mo Bamba can return, I expect him to be back in their starting lineup.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Enes Freedom (covid) out
Aaron Nesmith (covid) out
Dennie Schroder (conditioning) questionable
Jayson Tatum (conditioning) questionable
Robert Williams III (toe) questionable
Probable Magic Starters
PG: Tim Frazier
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Franz Wagner
PF: Wendell Carter, Jr
C: Mo Bamba
Cole Anthony (ankle) out
Mo Bamba (conditioning) available
Michael Carter-Williams (ankle) out
Markelle Fultz (covid) out
Hassani Gravett (covid) available
Jonathan Isaac (knee) out
Robin Lopez (illness) out
E’Twaun Moore (knee) out
Mychal Mulder (covid) available
Chuma Okeke (covid) out
Jalen Suggs (thumb) out
Jayson Tatum vs Franz Wagner
Wagner is averaging 15.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 44.9% from the field and 37.0% from beyond the arc. If Jayson Tatum can’t play due to conditioning, then I expect Jaylen Brown will get the start here at small forward.
Al Horford vs Wendel Carter, Jr
Carter is averaging 12.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He is shooting 49.3% from the field and 29.3% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to pay special attention to Carter in the paint and keep him off the boards. Once again, if Robert Williams is out, then I expect Al Horford to move to center and Grant Williams will likely get the start here.
Jaylen Brown vs Gary Harris
Harris is averaging 10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He is shooting 44.7% from the field and 35.3% from beyond the arc. Again this matchup is assuming that Tatum and Timelord can play. If either is out, we may see Dennis Schroder or Romeo Langford starting at shooting guard.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I can’t say it enough, but defense is always the key to winning. If you look at the best teams in the league, they are at the top of the league in defense. The Celtics are 9th with a defensive rating of 107.5 while the Magic are 27th with a defensive rating of 113.1. The Celtics will need to make defense a priority to get a win.
Rebound - Rebounding is also crucial if a team wants to win games. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball and the best way to get the ball is to grab rebounds and give themselves extra possessions. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and if the Celtics don’t put the extra effort into grabbing rebounds, they seem to lack effort in all parts of the game.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - Too often this season, the Celtics start strong and then stop doing what was working for them and they give up leads and fall behind. Or, they start slow and then have to play hard to try to catch up and often run out of gas before the end of the game because it took too much effort to come from behind. The Celtics must come out strong and play hard until the final buzzer. Even in their win over the Suns, they let up and allowed the Suns to come from 26 down at the half to win by just 13. They can’t play half way and expect to win.
Focus and Consistency - The Celtics have not been hitting their shots consistently. They will hit every shot for part of the game and then down the stretch, they can’t hit anything. Or, one game they shoot 4-42 from beyond the arc and the next game hit almost everything. A lot of their offensive struggles can be chalked up to a lack of focus. They are not taking good shots and aren’t focused on hitting their shots. They have to stay focused on hitting their shots and they have to stay focused on playing as a team.
Underestimation - The Celtics are coming off a big win over one of the best teams in the league and now they face one of the worst. It would be easy for the Celtics to underestimate the injury riddled Magic and play with less than 100% effort. However, we have seen too many losses to undermanned and weak teams this season. The Celtics have to come in expecting the Magic’s best game and play like them they are the top team in the league. They can’t let up because they expect the Magic to be an easy win because they are likely to get beat by them if they do.
Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be an x-factor. Whether the officials call the game tight or let them play without a lot of calls or whether the refs favor the opponents or whether they call a lot of phantom fouls, the Celtics need to adjust to the way the game is being called and not lose focus if bad calls go against them. They have to stay focused on playing basketball and not on the officiating.