Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Without their superstar leaders (Orlando traded franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard over the summer, Boston lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo for the season with a torn ACL), the teams face equally uncertain futures.
And that's what makes their Friday-night clash can't-miss television for both NBA fans and front offices.
While the Celtics have rattled off consecutive victories since losing Rondo, their president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has had little time to celebrate. He's been given the unenviable task of assessing the team's realistic chances of finding success with an aging roster and no budding superstar to lead them.
Orlando GM Rob Hennigan knows where his club is at—facing a massive rebuilding project. The Magic's roster is littered with leftover, pricey veterans brought in to supplement Howard for a potential championship run. With Howard out of the picture, Hennigan will use the coming weeks to identify the key components of this club's future, and find ways to cut ties with those that don't fit his vision.
What really makes these teams so unique, though, are their combinations of coveted, proven veterans and potential-laced youthful talent. Any significant deals either team will make will likely include players on both ends of their careers, leaving Ainge and Hennigan to decide which ones are expendable.
Time: Friday, February 1, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Orlando Magic (14-31), Boston Celtics (22-23)
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Arron Afflalo (calf), questionable
Al Harrington (knee), out
Glen Davis (foot), out
Rajon Rondo (knee), out
Jared Sullinger (back), questionable
Nikola Vucevic, C, Magic, vs. Kevin Garnett, C, Celtics
Whether the recipient of an extra pass or buying the club an extra possession on the offensive glass, the University of Southern California product has emerged as one of coach Jacque Vaughn's most consistent players.
Thanks to solid footwork, a soft touch and his offensive rebounding (3.4 per game), he's capable of scoring on both post touches and putbacks. And that shooting touch extends well beyond the restricted area, as he's converted 46 percent of his non-restricted-area paint attempts and 42 percent of his mid-range looks (via nba.com).
But he has room for growth in terms of adding strength to his 7'0", 240-pound frame. He could force his way into the upper echelon of NBA centers if he could muscle through contact and the prying hands of help defenders.
Defensively, he makes his biggest impact on the boards. His 29 rebounds against the Miami Heat on New Year's Eve thrust him on to the national stage, but he's been a glass-eater all season (11.2 rebounds per game).
His inside-outside production proves a tough cover for any defender, even the 18-year veteran Garnett.
But NBA mileage has piled up on his 36-year-old knees and his mobility has taken a noticeable dip this season.
Even without the same spring in his step, though, he's compiled a respectable 14.9 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting from the field.
While he once overwhelmed the opposition with strength and quickness, he's now outwitted them on the offensive end.
He knows where he can be most effective at this stage in his career and works to find his chances of pick-and-pops or step-back jumpers. Defenders know where he's headed, as nearly 59 percent of his shots have come from mid-range.
But simply being cognizant of his plan of attack and slowing that assault has proven a tall task, as the "Big Ticket" has connected on 47 percent of his mid-range attempts.
He's the default anchor of the defense, but hasn't averaged more than one block per game since the 2008-09 season. That probably won't be an issue against an Orlando team short on drivers, but with more playing time for Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa, it could grow into a serious problem for coach Doc Rivers.
J.J. Redick, SG, Magic
If Vucevic and rookie Andrew Nicholson punish the undersized Celtics front line early, expect Redick to set his long-range trigger to automatic.
One of the most coveted players on the trade market, what makes him such a lethal threat on offense is his ability to complement his perimeter stroke (40.5 three-point percentage) with a heady dribble-drive game. He has a reliable mid-range jumper (44 percent) and a better success rate at the basket than his athleticism would suggest (69 percent).
When those driving lanes close or defenses overcommit to limit his three-point chances, he's a willing passer (4.4 assists).
Defensively, he's no slouch. What he lacks in quickness, he compensates for with good instincts and an intelligent approach to that end of the floor.
The only question will be whether or not an explosive outing from Redick will be enough for a Magic team stuck in a tailspin long before the team lost Glen Davis (broken foot) on Wednesday night. Orlando has lost 18 of its past 20 games.
Celtics 104, Magic 95
Boston's long-term projections won't be bright in Rondo's absence, but there aren't many defenses more generous than Orlando's of late.
Even without Rondo, the Celtics hold a sizable talent advantage in the starting lineup. And that talent gap only grows when the reserves enter the conversation.
But the rebuilding Magic have faced enormous mismatches all season long, and credit for Vaughn for keeping them competitive.
The Celtics will emerge victorious, but the Magic shooters will keep this close.
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