Boston: 110.3 points/100 possessions (6th)
Orlando: 110.0 points/100 possessions (7th)
Boston: 100.0 points allowed/100 possessions (2nd)
Orlando: 103.7 points allowed/100 possessions (7th)
Thumbnail: The Christmas Day showdown we’ve all been waiting for, except now it will take place without Paul Pierce, which means this game will either show the C’s are awesome and the Magic are overrated, or it will mean nothing because the Celtics are missing Paul Pierce. You know, depending on the outcome. (I kid).
WHAT THE MAGIC ARE GOOD AT:
* Pretty much everything they choose to be good at. I’m not being facetious or building up the Magic as some sort of unbeatable juggernaut. They rank near the bottom of the league in two categories (#26 in offensive rebounding, #29 in forcing turnovers on defense) because they essentially punt those categories. They don’t crash the offensive boards because they’d rather get back on defense, and they don’t try for steals because they’d rather maintain good defensive position than gamble.
This is Stan Van Gundy’s philosophy, and they execute it well.
* Shot selection. On both ends. The Magic distribute their shots on offense in the way they (and most experts) believe is most efficient. On defense, they force opponents to attempt the kinds of shots that they (and most experts) believe are least efficient. No team takes fewer shots from between 16 feet out and the three-point line (i.e. long two-pointers), and it’s not even close, according to Hoopdata.com. On the flip side, Magic opponents attempt more shots from this range than the opponents of any other team in the league.
Put simply: The Magic avoid taking long twos and force their opponents to take a ton of them. It’s not rocket science; the Celtics try and do the same thing on both ends, but no one hits the extremes to the extent the Magic do.
Likewise: Only three teams allow opponents to get off fewer shots at the rim, according to Hoopdata. That stat represents Dwight Howard’s defensive impact in numbers. Good news: The C’s are one of those three teams that allow even fewer attempts at the rim—and Boston holds opponents to the lowest percentage on those shots (56.0 %) among all 30 teams.
So take that, Superman!
* Shooting three-pointers.
The Magic love ‘em.
No team has taken more, not even the Knicks. And they’ve hit 37.2 percent of them this season, and while that’s down from 38.1 last season, it’s still good for #4 in the NBA.
* Defensive rebounding. This is, statistically, the best defensive rebounding team in the league. And it’s not even close.
WHAT THE MAGIC DO POORLY
* Shoot free throws. They’re dead last in the NBA at 70.7 percent, but that’s really all Dwight Howard and his consistently awful free throw shooting. Despite endless promises to get better, D-12 is hitting just 59.9 percent of his foul shots this season, an improvement of exactly .9 from last season’s 59.0 mark.
Teams are fouling him a tiny bit more often this season, and Dwight is attempting just 9.0 shots per game—an unthinkable number for a star player. Vince Carter is attempting almost twice as many shots as Howard, Vince is shooting just 39.8 percent from the floor!
Dwight’s also turning the ball over nearly 20 percent of the time he tries to do something with it, a huge jump from last year’s mark.
We’re all still waiting for that jump in Dwight’s offensive skills.
* Defend the three. This is nit-picking, since what I really mean to say is that the Magic, so far this season, haven’t defended the three quite as well as they did in ’09. Only nine teams have allowed opponents to hit a higher percentage of three-pointers than Orlando has so far this season (35.9 percent); the Magic ranked 3rd in this category last year, when opponents nailed just 34.2 percent from deep.
And opponents are jacking them more often, too. The Magic have allowed 514 three-point attempts, which puts them right in the middle of the league; last year, only two teams yielded fewer three-point shots. Magic opponents are shooting about three more times from deep per game this season.
Why? Who knows. Opposing point guards have been tearing up the Magic—especially when Jameer Nelson plays—and Vince Carter has never been the hardest-working defender in the league.
PLAYER/S WHO MAKE ME WORRY
* Dwight Howard. Sure, Perk can contain D-12 without a double-team, but Howard does more damage as a defensive menace than as a post-up scorer. No team shoots a higher percentage at the rim than the Celtics, but the last time these two teams played, the team shot a lot of jumpers and hit only 29 percent of its shots when Howard was on the floor.
* The Ryan Anderson/Mickael Pietrus/J.J. Redick three-point shooting brigade. This trio is lighting it up from the perimeter this season. If two of them play well, the Magic are very, very tough to beat. If all three shoot well, it’s over.
PLAYER/S WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY
* Vince Carter. Put it this way: Stan Van Gundy still sounds sort of surprised when Vince Carter plays hard on defense. And he’s shooting 39.8 percent from the floor. He runs the screen/roll well, but not as well as Hedo Turkoglu—Vince dribbles the ball a lot more and often takes longer to make the “drive or pass?” decision than Hedo did playing that role last season.
Sorry. I will now return to being objective.
* Jameer Nelson. A key way to beat Orlando is to have a really good point guard who can destroy Nelson with dribble penetration. Speaking of which…
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM BOSTON TONIGHT:
* The next step from Rajon Rondo. Few teams, if any, have frustrated Rajon Rondo as much as Orlando, and it’s easy to see why: they keep him away from the rim. To be an effective scorer, Rajon is going to have to hit floaters or take creative angles to the rim to avoid Howard. Against the Magic more than anyone else, he needs to be a prober-passer in the style of Steve Nash.
He can beat Nelson off the dribble whenever he wants. The next step has been a challenge for Rajon. Without Pierce, Rondo needs to step up.
* KG in the post. Go at Rashard Lewis, big fella.
* Ray Allen has to find a way to score. J.J. Redick and the Magic largely shut Ray down in the playoffs last season, though a balky hamstring may have had something to do with that. Can Ray get going against Vince Carter and Redick?
* A wild card scorer. I don’t care who it is. Two out of the House/Scal/TA/Shelden/Whoever Else Plays group will need to hit double-digits for the C’s to win.
Sorry, guys. This is a tall order on the road without Pierce. But you know the C’s will fight. Orlando 101, C’s 96.
(This is the first preview in which I have picked a C’s opponent).