You've my heard my crackpot prediction — Magic in 6 — and KD throws in his two cents below, but we also called in four of the NBA blogosphere's finest to help set up the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Up first: Jeff Clark from CelticsBlog and Ben Q. Rock from Third Quarter Collapse breakdown the highly anticipated Boston-Orlando series.
CelticsBlog: At full strength the Celtics might be the Magic’s toughest matchup. Perkins is able to body up Howard while Garnett provides superb help defense and when he’s in the game Leon Powe is a master at drawing charges on the big fella. Since that full strength Celtics squad can play Howard more straight up than any other team, they can stay at home on the shooters.
Boston still has Perkins, who can muscle up Howard. However, that only helps when Howard is in the post and when Perkins is on the floor. Kendrick has a tendency to get into foul trouble and he’s got an oft-injured shoulder that he grabbed in pain at the end of Game 7. In the last meeting between these teams, the Magic used Dwight’s quickness and athleticism to get him going. They used him on pick and rolls where he was able to attack the basket at a run. Then the guards penetrated to force the Celtics bigs to help off of Howard, which is pretty much defensive suicide.
It doesn’t help that the Magic (specifically Lewis and Turkoglu) can get hot from beyond the arc and light up any defense. Of course, they seem to live by the three and die by it. Boston was able to wait out a few hot shooting performances in the last series (though just barely in some cases) because they trust the defensive game plan and execute it as well as they can with the personnel they have.
It would be hard to expect a near triple double every time out for Rondo, but who’s going to stop him on the Magic? Maybe even Marbury can get things going. It would be nice to see some more productivity out of the bench in general. It would be really nice if House continued his hot shooting and Scalabrine could give us some more quality minutes. If nothing else, we know that Mikki Moore has six floppy fouls to throw at Howard if necessary.
Celtics in 6.
Orlando has a significant edge at the power positions. Talent is an issue for Boston, as is depth. Although Kendrick Perkins has shown he can defend Dwight Howard well, he’s also foul-prone. Glen Davis is neither quick enough to chase Rashard Lewis around the perimeter nor savvy enough to neutralize him in the post. The only rotation player behind Perkins and Davis is Brian Scalabrine, against whom Lewis has no trouble scoring. Doc Rivers might have to go to the end of his bench and call on the little-used Mikki Moore just to give the guys ahead of him a breather. They’re going to need it. Look for Lewis and Howard to have a big series.
Boston’s advantage is on the wings. Paul Pierce has consistently had his way with Hedo Turkoglu, but that’s not even the worst part of it for Orlando: it’s having J.J. Redick on an island against Ray Allen. The sinus injury to Courtney Lee, the Magic’s best perimeter defender, will sideline him for at least the first two games of this series. As such, the Magic will have to rely on Redick to chase Allen through myriad screens. Making matters worse is the fact that Mickael Pietrus is the only other wing player in Orlando’s rotation. He’ll have to spell Turkoglu and Redick, but he can’t do both at once. Stan Van Gundy will have to get creative, perhaps going with the rarely-seen “tall ball” lineup of Howard, Marcin Gortat, Lewis, Pietrus, and Rafer Alston.
So, who will it be? The Magic are more talented, more rested, and better coached, but have less experience. And their consistent frittering away of double-digit leads against the 76ers bodes ill against Boston, which consistently rallied back from similarly sized deficits against the Bulls. Additionally, the Celtics made valiant comeback efforts against the Magic in the last two games between these teams, only to fall short in the end.
Thus, I expect a close series with some exciting finishes. I also expect the Magic to win the series, due in large part to their defense and pronounced edge in the frontcourt.
Magic in 6.
Kelly Dwyer: You have to go back and forth on this, because you’d be doing either side a disservice if you didn’t. The Celtics are limited, I’m not going to imagine that they aren’t; but they’ve also shown a predilection toward playing over their heads.
And the Magic? They boast the same predilection. Problem is, that attitude has been hard to find over the last month or so. Then again, talent usually outs. Then again, are you the one to pass on backing a team as potent as the Magic, playing a Boston club that is limited severely by comparison?
So, just expect competition. It might not always be fun to watch, but it will be admirable to behold.
Celtics in 6.