NBA

East finals preview: Magic vs. Celtics

 Kevin Garnett & Jameer Nelson (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jameer Nelson and Kevin Garnett both missed last year's playoff meeting.
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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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The king has been revealed as a court jester, and the Celtics have usurped the throne. Now comes the series that nobody anticipated, except the Celtics themselves.

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  • Who will win the East finals?
    • Magic in 4 or 5
    • Magic in 6 or 7
    • Celtics in 4 or 5
    • Celtics in 6 or 7

WHY BOSTON SHOULD WIN

If Rajon Rondo concentrates on defending Jameer Nelson, and if Boston’s bigs can make the same kind of space-eating shows on the Magic’s screens/rolls, then the point-guard matchup will be lopsided in the Celtics favor. At the other end, there’s no way that the relatively slow-footed and under-sized Nelson can keep up with Rondo.

Before heading to Orlando, Ray Allen must make a detour to find the jump shot that he left in Cleveland. If he’s successful, Allen’s perimeter shooting will extend the Magic’s defense and enable Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to operate without the immediate threat of being double-teamed. Also, Allen’s perpetual motion on the weak-side will confuse Vince Carter, force Orlando’s bigs to make difficult choices in a hurry—to switch on to Allen or to stay with the screener? Look for the Magic’s bigs to make several wrong decisions that allow Boston’s screeners to slip their screens and wind up with uncontested layups and dunks.

Pierce is too big and too strong for Matt Barnes/Mickael Pietrus to contain. Pierce will also do more work in the low-post than he did against Cleveland. And except for an occasional 3-ball neither of Orlando’s small forwards can put much pressure on PP at the other end of the court.

Kevin Garnett will have no trouble getting off his high-handed, turnaround-fadeaway jumpers against the minimal defense of Rashard Lewis. Even though KG has lost a step on defense, he’s still long enough to stifle Lewis—provided that Garnett doesn’t wander too far away in his desire to provide defensive help elsewhere.

Kendrick Perkins won’t back down against Dwight Howard. He’ll also set wall-like screens and slip into open spaces in the shadow of the basket whenever Howard is too intent on blocking someone else’s shot.

Tony Allen is the best defensive wing in the series. He can lock up Carter or Lewis, and neither can keep him from driving the ball to the rim. If necessary, T. Allen can also put a bag over J. J. Redick’s offense.

Rasheed Wallace is the x-factor. If he shows up, he’ll force Howard to guard him above the 3-point line—which Howard simply will not do. Screen/pops involving Wallace will require that he be covered by the nearest wing defender and Orlando to execute meticulous baseline rotations. A tough adjustment for any defense to accomplish on a regular basis.

Glen Davis has a lower center of gravity than Howard and can therefore push the bigger man off his favorite spots in the low-post. Moreover, Davis will be open for a multitude of the mid-range jumpers that he’s mastered. Also, count on Davis to make good use of all of his six fouls.

Besides dumping the ball into Howard and running isos for Carter, Orlando’s bread-and-butter play is a high S/R that’s designed to create space for Nelson to pull up and shoot, or to drive and dish. However, one of Boston’s specialties is defending the high S/R. Their procedure is for their bigs to show high, wide and strong enough to force the ball-handler to give ground for a count or two, thereby giving the baseline rotations plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments.

Overall, the Celtics have been there, done that, and know how to win. They have the mental toughness to avoid being intimidated in the slightest when playing on the road. Plus, in so handily beating the Cavs, Boston has survived a much more difficult test than the Magic faced in sweeping the hapless, gutless Hawks.

Confidence, versatility, and experience under pressure … these are the aces that should trump the Magic.

WHY ORLANDO COULD WIN

Howard doesn’t have to concentrate on defending Perkins so he can zone the lane and block beaucoup shots. Furthermore, with Carter on board, Howard doesn’t need to score big-time points for Orlando to win. He’s also quicker off his feet and much more athletic than Perkins and should dominate both boards.
Vince Carter

The Celtics may have trouble defending Vince Carter.
Fernando Medina/NBAE


Carter is too big and too creative for Ray Allen to stifle. VC has also learned the virtues of passing when his drives attract hostile crowds. If he can restrict himself to taking only good shots, Carter could be the difference.

Lewis’s shooting range is greater than Garnett’s defensive range. But he must stay focused and stay involved to put maximum pressure on KG.

Matt Barnes is a scrappy player who will constantly be in PP’s grill. The energetic Barnes should also be easily able to outdistance Pierce when Orlando can get out and go.

Pietrus and Barnes will play relentless defense against Pierce, and could eventually wear him down. Also, both of these guys are streaky 3-point shooters and could make Pierce pay dearly whenever he loses touch with them.

Redick is Ray Allen lite. Given solid screens, he can routinely knock down long-balls, and if he’s played too tightly, Redick can also find his way to the rim.

Marcin Gortat is best when setting screens and rolling hoopwards. He’s also a determined rebounder, and a defender who can cover a lot of ground.

For the Magic to prevail in this series, they must take care of the ball. That means making only short, crisp passes and avoiding risky cross-court and skip passes. Still, swift and sure ball- and player-movement must be executed to prevent the Celtics’ defense from cutting their attack zone in half.

Hitting their treys is another must, as is rescuing more loose balls than Boston does. By assaulting their offensive glass Orlando can create desperately needed extra shots, and they can deny Boston the same bonus opportunities by also capturing the lion’s share of missed shots at the other end of the game.

Finally, Orlando’s vaunted defense will be sorely tested. Their rotations must be precise and mistake free. Howard has to be extremely judicious in his overriding eagerness to block every shot that he thinks he can reach.

Forget about their superior record during the regular season. Pay no attention to their home-court advantage. Orlando must bring their A-game on every play to fend off the deadly challenge that Boston will provide.
Tagged: Celtics, Magic, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Kendrick Perkins, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Tony Allen, Glen Davis

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