As Howard approaches the top of the team’s scoring list and Orlando continues to play well despite trade rumors surrounding their star, the Boston Celtics are finding it more difficult to compete with the NBA’s elite.
Orlando looks to win its fifth straight on the road Monday night when it faces Boston.
Howard needs 26 points to become the Magic’s all-time leading scorer after he had 21 points and 23 rebounds in a 92-80 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. It was his second straight 20-20 game and fifth this season.
The Magic (11-4) led 22-10 at the end of the first quarter in a poor-shooting affair. Still, they went on to win for the sixth time in seven games and are atop the Southeast Division.
Orlando has also played the last two games without starting forward Hedo Turkoglu (back spasms).
“We’re playing pretty good basketball right now,” Howard said. “We’ve just got to keep it up. Everybody’s playing the right way.”
While Orlando appears to be on the upswing, Boston has been hurt by injuries to its veterans and had lost five straight before winning two of its last three games.
The Celtics found themselves without two starters by the end of a 100-94 victory over league-worst Washington on Sunday. Rajon Rondo missed his second straight game with a sprained right wrist while Ray Allen left with an ankle injury after being fouled with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter.
Allen wasn’t sure if he would play Monday and coach Doc Rivers said Boston was being cautious with Rondo.
“He’s close, but we’ve just got to get it right,” Rivers said before the game.
Even with Rondo sidelined and Allen missing much of the game, the Celtics were able to pull ahead late as Paul Pierce finished with a season-high 34 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
Pierce, who missed the first three games of the season with a bruised right heel, totaled 20 points on 8 of 24 shooting the previous two games. He connected on 10 of 15 Sunday.
“I’m one of our, if not our main scorer on this ballclub,” Pierce said. “That’s my role. I haven’t been doing a good job of it lately, but a lot of that has to do with just being in game shape, getting my legs stronger, being able to get up and down and jump.”
Boston is 0-6 against teams with a winning record with four of those losses coming at home.
Monday’s game will be a homecoming for Glen Davis, who won a championship with the Celtics in 2008 and returned to the NBA finals with them two years later. The always emotional Davis, who was traded in the offseason along with Von Wafer as part of the deal for Brandon Bass, is averaging 7.9 points in 22.5 minutes per game this season.
“It’s tough for Glen, in some ways,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “You just have to deal with it … and try to keep your emotions in check and just go out and play basketball.”
Boston has won two straight against the Magic despite allowing Howard to average 30.5 points and 13.0 rebounds in those games.
These teams meet again in Orlando on Thursday.