The Boston Celtics are trailing the Indiana Pacers, who are in third place in the East, and might like a 4-5 matchup with the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. If so, look for Doc Rivers to rest at least one or two of his star players over the next week.
The Orlando Magic find themselves in a very difficult position with four of their last five games against playoff teams. With Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and possibly Glen Davis out for the foreseeable future, the team is desperately trying to avoid dropping from the sixth seed and into a tough first-round matchup with the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat.
Key Injury: Glen Davis
With both Howard and Turkoglu out of the Orlando lineup, Stan Van Gundy inserted Davis into a starting role. Unfortunately for the Magic, Davis sprained his knee on Sunday night and was kept out of the lineup on Monday night versus Philadelphia.
Davis has struggled to produce for the Magic on a consistent basis this season, scoring only 8.9 points per game over 22.8 minutes, and his shooting numbers have drastically dropped from 44 percent for his career to 40.9 percent this season. But in his three previous starts at center, he averaged 34.3 minutes, 14.6 points and 11.6 rebounds and shot a very efficient 47.5 percent from the field.
With a starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, Ryan Anderson and Davis, the Magic were one of the shortest starting units in the NBA. But without the services of Davis, the Magic have been forced to play Daniel Orton while fighting to stay in the sixth spot in the East and a potential matchup with the Pacers.
Key Difference: Kevin Garnett
With all the talk of breaking up the Celtics before the trade deadline, the team has regained its identity as one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. The C’s went on a 21-8 roll and Garnett has been spectacular after the All-Star break. He looks totally rejuvenated, he has more lift on his jump shot and he’s making more athletic plays on the court. Garnett averaged 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds and recorded 12 double-doubles during that period.
Key Stat: Turnovers
The Magic have struggled with turnovers the entire season, with Nelson, Chris Duhon, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu doing most of the ball handling. Over the course of the season, the Magic have turned the ball over 15 times per game, ranking them 20th in the NBA. Without Howard, the Magic have been forced to improve drastically in this area. In the last three games they have reduced their turnovers to 11.7 per game, which would rank them second in the NBA. In their game versus Cleveland on Sunday they had only six turnovers for the entire game.
Key Emergence: Avery Bradley
Bradley was drafted by the Celtics in 2010, but toiled as a role player during the past two years with very few expectations placed upon him. However, due to injuries this season, he found himself inserted into the starting lineup and has delivered for the C’s. During the month of April, he has averaged 13.6 points per game while playing 32.7 minutes per game. Over that time he has shot 51 percent from the field and an amazing 62 percent from the 3-point line. His spectacular play also allowed Rivers to utilize Ray Allen as a sixth man once Allen got healthy. Allen is the go-to scorer on the second unit and can be utilized in crunch time with the starters.
Bradley is also a lockdown defender, and the combination of him and Rondo gives the Celtics one of the most athletic backcourts in the NBA and a young, exciting foundation at the guard positions. If the C’s can get Allen, who is a free agent at the end of the season, to re-sign at a lower number they would have their backcourt for the 2012-13 season solidified. What once was a problem area for the C’s has become a strength as they head into the playoffs.
Key Deficiency: 3-Point Shooting
The Magic have been the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA this season, shooting 37.8 percent from behind the arc. They also lead the NBA in attempts with 27 per game and makes with 10.2 per game. With Howard out of the lineup, teams have changed their defensive strategy -- they do not have to double or help off their men onto Howard. This strategy puts extreme pressure on the Magic players to create open 3-point shots. In the five games without Howard so far, they have gone 3-2, winning all three games when they were able to utilize the 3-point shot as a weapon. In those three wins the Magic were 37-for-75 (49.3 percent) from the 3-point line. In the two losses they were unable to manufacture good 3-point looks and shot only 17-for-57 (29.8 percent) from the 3-point line.
The Celtics are ranked No. 1 in the NBA at defending the 3-point shot, allowing opponents to shoot only 29.7 percent from behind the line. They will lock in on the Magic shooters, especially Anderson and Redick, and run them off the 3-point line. They will make them put the ball on the floor and force the Magic into taking a high volume of contested 2-point shots. The Magic will not get good 3-point looks by playing inside-out, thus they must create as many opportunities as possible by dribble penetration and pick-and-pop action.