Dwight Howard is going to need a big game in order to stop the Boston Celtics
For the second straight year, the Boston Celtics will travel down to Orlando to face Dwight Howard and the new look Magic.
In last year's matchup, the Boston defeated Orlando 86-77 (despite missing Paul Pierce), thanks in large part to Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. However this year, Rajon Rondo will be the one watching from the sideline, or home, while Paul Pierce attempts to guide his team to a fifteenth straight victory.
On the other hand, the Orlando Magic are still struggling to find their identity. Recent trades have brought in Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu as the Magic attempt to revamp their philosophy and image. Since their December 18th trades, the Magic have lost all three games they have played as coach Stan Van Gundy tries to find a lineup that works best. Orlando will have one last shot prior to facing Boston, but it comes against the team with best record in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs.
In a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals, there are few similarities for each team as they head into the Christmas Day matchup.
Nate Robinson will need to provide energy for the Celtics
While Rajon Rondo continues to heal from his injuries, Nate Robinson will run the offense for the Celtics. Nate has done a quality job in the starting role, averaging 16.3ppg while dishing out 4.8 assists per game this season and shown improvements in his defensive abilities. Backup point guard, Delonte West, is also out with an injury which forces Marquis Daniels or rookie Avery Bradley to run the point. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen occasionally bring the ball up court, but it's not something coach Doc Rivers prefers until the final minutes of the game.
On the other side, Orlando has possibly the best point guard tandem in the NBA. Jameer Nelson is very familiar with the Magic's offense and has been a thorn in the Celtics side at times. Nelson does have a tendency of forgoing the offense and simply jacking up wild shots, especially at the end of games. He will balance time with newly acquired Gilbert Arenas, who has yet to find his shooting touch since becoming a member of the Magic. He is more than capable of scoring in the bunches though and can be extremely difficult to guard. Arenas is happy to be a facilitator for the Magic, but simply hasn't had enough practice time to learn the system.
Advantage: The Magic. Nate Robinson will have his hands full guarding either player and it is doubtful that Avery Bradley will see significant playing time. Marquis Daniels is will be able to help defensively, but can not be relied upon to run the the Celtics offense. Even though the Magic are not a coherent unit yet, they certainly have the talent edge over the Celtics in this position.
Ray Allen is the x-factor for the Celtics. He instantly stretches the opponents defense and if his shot is falling, the Celtics become nearly impossible to guard. Already known as one of the best three point shooters to ever play the game, Ray will need to make the most of his chances against Orlando in order for Boston to win. If Marquis Daniels is not asked to help play point guard, he will spell Ray or Paul Pierce (depending on Doc's rotation). Von Wafer doesn't see a bunch of minutes, but is capable of providing some offense, but don't count on the defense.
Based on Orlando's last game against the Dallas Mavericks, the Magic will play with two shooting guards to start the game. Sharp shooter J.J. Redick has proven that he can play in the NBA and is more than capable of making shots when given the opportunity. His biggest liability is his defensive abilities but will certainly put forth a great effort. Behind Redick is Quentin Richardson, depending on Van Gundy's rotation. Arenas could possibly slide in as the backup or maybe even be on the court as the end is winding down.
Advantage: The Celtics. Ray Allen is apart of Boston's "Big Three" and will be counted upon for his offensive production. J.J. Redick can run with Ray Allen, but can not contain him. Orlando will have to shuffle some things around in order to prevent being exposed.
Jason Richardson's game flourished with the Phoenix Suns along side Steve Nash. So far with the Magic, Richardson has proven to be an adequate defender while struggling to find his shot. The bottom line with Richardson is that he is consistent, something that Vince Carter was not. Orlando is hoping that Richardson can hit his open shots, be a contributing factor in the transition game, and possibly contain Paul Pierce. Van Gundy may choose to start Hedo, counting on Turkoglu's size to bother Pierce.
Pierce has really stepped up since Rondo's injury and has become the primary play maker for the Celtics. He is finding ways to step up his teammates while continuing to play solid defense. Offensively, his game is still sharp, especially in the 4th quarter. Marquis Daniels is the primary backup and possibly Von Wafer if needed.
Advantage: The Celtics. It's hard to believe that Orlando will be able to stop Pierce offensively. Richardson is more athletic but Pierce is more stronger, which he uses very effectively. Hedo will need to rely heavily on his size to stop Pierce, which will likely result in foul trouble.
Kevin Garnett has been revitalized this season after playing through injuries last year. He is the MVP for the Celtics and is the main reason that Boston has one of the top defenses in the league. Garnett has become more of a jump shooter lately but has no problem going into the paint when necessary. Backing up KG is Glen Davis. Davis has become a consistent offensive and defensive force this season for the Celtics. He is a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year as well as Defensive Player of the Year thanks to his many charges.
Orlando has Hedo Turkoglu at the power forward spot, something he is comfortable and familiar with in their system. It will take him some time to his find shot, only shooting 3-15 since arriving in Orlando. Regardless, he loves playing in big games and has a knack for stepping up in big situations. Brandon Bass, although undersized, will also play backup to Turkoglu. Bass has played well for Orlando and loves to do the dirty work needed to win a basketball game.
Advantage: The Celtics. KG and Davis are too potent a matchup for Orlando to combat. The disparity in the matchup may not be significant, but the edge goes to the Celtics.
Without a doubt the Orlando Magic have the advantage here. Dwight Howard is one of the best, if not the best, centers in the league. He has improved his offensive game and is still a beast of the defensive end. Backing up Howard is either Earl Clark or Brandon Bass.
Shaq has been a big surprise for the Celtics this season. He's very efficient during his time on the court and has provided an extra offensive threat for the starting lineup. While he doesn't play a lot of minutes, he plays hard and does his best to prevent easy baskets. Semih Erden, who has been another big surprise for the Celtics, will backup Shaq. It will be a miracle if he can guard Howard. Glen Davis has experience guarding Howard and at times is able to frustrate him with his large body. Jermaine O'neal is reportedly going to play, but don't believe it until you see it.
Advantage: The Magic. Bottom line, Dwight Howard is a beast. One of the keys to stopping Orlando is allowing Dwight to get his while containing everyone else.
The bottom line is that the Celtics have been playing together all season while Orlando will be looking to get their new players involved. The Celtics are the best ball moving team in the team and do an excellent job of taking away their opponent's main strengths.
Orlando certainly has the fire power to win this game, so don't expect a blowout by any means. The question remains, can they play defense at a high level and will their new players be ready?
Boston is simply to deep and prepared to lose this game. Later on the season, it will be a more even matchup.