The Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic waged a back-and-forth seven-game series in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, with the Magic eliminating the Celtics in Boston en route to the NBA finals.
Based on their early success this fall, the teams may have to meet again if either wants to play for the title for a second straight year.
The last two East champions will tangle Friday night in Boston for the first time since their playoff showdown, with Orlando looking for a fourth straight victory and the Celtics hoping to continue their recovery from some recent stumbles.
Boston was without star forward Kevin Garnett(notes) for its entire playoff run, but got to a Game 7 against Orlando and was playing at home. The Magic, however, put together a dominating fourth quarter to win 101-82 and dethrone the Celtics.
Orlando (9-3) eventually lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, but despite some changes and early problems, the team is looking like a contender to get back to the finals.
Coach Stan Van Gundy wasn’t always happy with his players during the Magic’s 6-3 start, but he seemed content after they won their third straight Wednesday night, beating Oklahoma City 108-94.
“Maybe I should have put Rashard back in there, but I don’t think in terms of individual awards or accomplishments,” Van Gundy said. “We’re on our eighth starting lineup and that’s more than I used all of last season. I’m more worried about my guys giving a consistent effort every night and we certainly got that tonight.”
In addition to Lewis’ suspension, Orlando has dealt with injuries or illness that have caused Vince Carter(notes), Mickael Pietrus(notes), Ryan Anderson(notes) and Brandon Bass(notes) to miss time. Point guard Jameer Nelson(notes) is expected to be out 4-6 weeks after having knee surgery Wednesday.
Nelson, though, was the only key player to miss Wednesday’s victory, as Carter scored a team-high 18 points. The Magic acquired Carter to replace departed swingman Hedo Turkoglu(notes), who had 25 points and 12 assists in the decisive playoff victory over Boston.
“I just try to run all the time and hope that the rest of the guys run with me,” Williams told the Magic’s official Web site. “I think (the Magic are better running) because then teams can’t load up on (star center) Dwight (Howard).”
The Celtics (9-3) will likely try to slow the pace and rely on their defense, as they are among three teams allowing fewer than 90 points per game.
A healthier Garnett has returned as the centerpiece defensively, and Boston added veteran Rasheed Wallace(notes) to a star-studded lineup as it hopes to make another run at the franchise’s 18th NBA title. Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes) remain the team’s top scorers.
The Celtics’ play, however, has been uneven after their 6-0 start. They lost back-to-back games against Atlanta and Indiana before rebounding with a 109-95 victory over Golden State on Wednesday.
“I thought he changed the momentum of the game,” Garnett said. “I thought he was a lot more solid. He was aggressive. He picked up the energy.”