Celtics-Magic series breakdown
Defending champ and No. 2 seed Boston is an underdog to the Magic
Four Celtics averaged over 40 minutes a game in ousting the Bulls
Orlando's foul shooting may keep Boston in the series, but Magic win
No. 2 Celtics (62-20) vs. No. 3 Magic (59-23)
OVERVIEW: With no real chance to top the historic first-round victory over the Bulls for late-game thrills, because it's reasonable to think we may never see another series like that again, Boston goes for a new kind of encore: Survival.
Rare is the time that a defending champion with home-court advantage and a better record is the underdog in the second round, but welcome to it. The absence of Kevin Garnett may have locked that in anyway, except then the Celtics needed seven exhausting games to escape the Bulls. And since Orlando is better than Chicago . . .
The Celtics and Magic split their four games during the regular season, with an asterisk: Boston was 2-0 with Garnett and pretty much 0-2 without, KG logging all of 17 minutes in one of the Orlando victories in the attempt to bring him back from a knee injury.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Whether the Celtics can make it up Heartbreak Hill. Long first round. Loooonnnnngggg first round. Rajon Rondo averaged 45.3 minutes over the seven games, Paul Pierce 44.4, Glen Davis 41.6, Ray Allen 40 and Kendrick Perkins 37.9. And now the games come nearly non-stop, every other day until a two-day break between 6 and 7, if necessary.
2. The availability of Courtney Lee. The Magic's starting shooting guard underwent surgery Thursday to repair fractures in a nasal cavity and is expected to miss at least Monday's opener and probably longer. When he does return, Lee will wear a protective mask. So even a return to the lineup may be different than a return to the form of a reliable perimeter scorer who can help keep defenses honest from sagging on Dwight Howard.
3. Boston's interior defense. Howard is the last person the Celtics wanted to see when down Garnett and Leon Powe. That leaves center Perkins and power forward Davis, except that Davis will be chasing Rashard Lewis around screens on the perimeter. Boston was able to survive Chicago because the Bulls hurt people with guards and wings, but Howard is the best in the game at his position. He doesn't have a commanding offensive arsenal, but he didn't in the regular season either and averaged 20.6 points while shooting 57.2 percent and didn't pick one up in the first round and went for 24 and 68.3 percent.
The Magic were last in the league in free-throw percentage during the regular season, with Howard at 59.4 percent. If there's a team the Celtics, or anyone, would want in a close game in the pressurized playoffs, it's Orlando. The problem, of course, is that Boston can't play Hack-a-Dwight because the Celtics can't afford the foul trouble. Not enough bodies.
The great Boston intangible, of course, is the competitive spirit that is still very much alive. Orlando can't come close to matching that attitude and that experience that can pay off in moments like this, legs dragging or not. If the Celtics go out, it won't be while wilting. The same can't be said with certainty about the Magic.
UNDER THE RADAR: The Magic had four different starters at shooting guard this season -- Lee, Mickael Pietrus, the departed Keith Bogans and J.J. Redick -- so replacing Lee isn't exactly impossible. Redick moved into the opening lineup for Game 6 against the 76ers and hit five three-pointers and finished with 15 points in his first career playoff start.
PREDICTION: Magic in 6. You'd have loved this series with both teams at full strength, including the Magic with Jameer Nelson, out so long by now that he unfortunately and undeservedly has faded from a lot of memories. Back in reality, though, the Celtics minus Garnett and Powe don't have the bodies to throw at Howard.
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