The Celtics continue their road trip as they take on the Orlando Magic for the third and final time this season. The Celtics won the first game 92-79 on November 3 in Orlando. They also won the second game 116-111 in overtime on January 2. The Celtics won the series 3-0 last season and have won the 8 straight against the Magic. The Celtics are 72-50 all time against the Magic and 24-35 when playing in Orlando.
The Celtics have climbed up to 8th place in the East. They have won 4 straight and the only team hotter than the Celtics is the Raptors, who have won 5 straight. The Celtics are 11-15 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 20-14 against other Eastern Conference teams. They are now 1 game ahead of 9th place Charlotte and 3 games ahead of 10 place Atlanta. They are 1/2 a game behind 7th place Toronto and just 1 game behind 6th place Brooklyn, who the Celtics face on Tuesday. They are just 3.5 games behind 3rd place Cleveland.
The Magic leave no doubt that they are looking to win the Lottery, rather than a championship. They have the worst record in the league, 1game behind 14th place Detroit and 7 behind 13th place Indiana. They are 4 games ahead of the Rockets, who are last in the West. The Magic are 5-19 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 8-29 against other Eastern Conference teams.
The Magic are playing on the second night of back to back games. They lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 135-115 at home on Saturday night. They are 2-9 when playing on the second night of back to back games. This is the second of 2 home games for the Magic and they begin a 4 game Western road trip on Thursday. The Celtics are playing in the 2nd of 3 road games and will complete the trip at Brooklyn on Tuesday before returning home for 2 games beginning with Denver on Friday.
The Celtics have just Bol Bol (foot) and PJ Dozier (knee) on the injury list. The Magic have 5 players out. Michael Carter-Williams (ankle), Markelle Fultz (knee), RJ Hampton (knee), Jonathan Isaac (knee), and E’Twaun Moore (knee) are all listed as out for this game. Both teams have the same players starting that started the first game between these two teams back in November. Both teams were missing starters for the January game.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Bol Bol (foot) out
PJ Dozier (knee) out
Probable Magic Starters
PG: Jalen Suggs
SG: Cole Anthony
SF: Franz Wagner
PF: Wendell Carter, Jr
C: Mo Bamba
RJ Hampton (knee) out
Michael Carter-Williams (ankle) out
Markelle Fultz (knee) out
Jonathan Isaac (knee) out
E’Twaun Moore (knee) out
Jaylen Brown vs Cole Anthony
Cole Anthony is leading the Magic with 17.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists. He is shooting 39.1% from the field and 32.6% from beyond the arc. He struggled in the first game between these two teams and missed the second game. He is capable of getting hot on any given night. The Celtics will definitely need to pay special attention to him on defense. It would be good if Jaylen could have a big game in this one also.
Jayson Tatum vs Franz Wagner
Wagner has been playing well for the Magic. He is averaging 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. He is shooting 46.8% from the field and 35.0% from beyond the arc. He scored a career high 38 points against the Bucks this season and so, once again, the Celtics need to pay attention to him on defense as he is capable of having a big game if not defended well. The Celtics need a good game from Jayson Tatum also.
Al Horford vs Wendell Carter, Jr
Carter is averaging 13.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He is shooting 49.8% from beyond the arc and 33.3% from beyond the arc. He also can get hot if the Celtics don’t cover him on defense. The Celtics need to keep him off the boards as well as slowing him down on offense.
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. It’s not a fluke that as the Celtics defense climbed to 4th in the league, they have been winning more. The Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 105.9 while the Magic are 23rd with a defensive rating of 111.7 The Celtics will need to continue to make defense a priority if they hope to continue to win games.
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 usually lack effort in all parts of the game. The Celtics are 4th in the league with 46.3 rebounds per game while the Magic are 25th in the league with 43.5 rebounds per game.
The Magic’s reserves average 34.7 points per game. The Celtics often struggle when they go to their bench. The Celtics reserves need to consistently contribute when they come in to give the starters a rest. They gave up a big lead during garbage time against the Pistons. The Celtics need to be able to give their starters rest and they need to have players off the bench that they can depend on. Terrence Ross came off the Magic bench in the last game to score 33 points for them.
Play Hard and Be Aggressive - At one time under Brad Stevens, the Celtics won games because they played harder then their opponents, even though they didn’t have as much talent. Last season and earlier this season, the Celtics allowed teams with less talent to beat them by just outworking them. During their recent 4 game win streak, we have once again seen the Celtics outworking teams and they need to continue to be the team that is more aggressive and that works harder if they want to continue to win. They can’t let up because they are playing a tanking team because the Magic have beaten good teams like the Jazz and the Nuggets and can beat the Celtics if they don’t come out and play hard.
Focus and Consistency - A lot of the Celtics inconsistency and offensive struggles can be chalked up to a lack of focus. At times this season they have looked like they could beat any team in the league and then, even sometimes in the same game, they looked like they would struggle against a G-League team. A lack of focus shows up in too many turnovers in some games. They have to consistently hit their shots and consistently play tough team defense and consistently take care of the ball. They can’t afford to lose focus, even for a short time, if they want to continue to win.
Road Game and Fatigue - The Celtics are playing in the second of 3 road games. They won the opening game on this road trip but as the trip continues, fatigue is likely to set in. They need to focus on the game and not on the distractions of travel and playing in an unfamiliar arena in front of hostile fans. Fatigue could be a factor for the Magic as well since they are playing on the second night of back to back games.
Officiating - Officiating can always be an X-Factor. In some games, you don’t even notice the referees and in other games, they seem to make the game all about them. Some crews call the game tight and others let the teams play. Some crews favor one of the teams while others call it fairly. No matter how the game is called, the Celtics must adjust to the way the game is being called and not allow the officiating to take away from their focus.