Orlando Versus Boston PreviewEastern Conference Finals
#2 Orlando (59-23) vs. #4 Boston (50-32)
Season series: Orlando, 3-1
Boston can win if…Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace can guard Dwight Howard one on one in the post effectively enough that the Celtics do not have to trap Howard and go into full rotation versus Orlando's armada of three point shooters. Perkins has enough lower body strength to battle Howard for post position, while in previous years Wallace used his length, savvy and mobility to frustrate Howard at times.
Naturally, it will also be beneficial for the Celtics if Rajon Rondo can post what Cleveland's Shaquille O'Neal termed "historical triple doubles." Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had some good moments versus the Cavs but were not hugely productive overall; the Celtics will need to get more out of both future Hall of Famers in order to dethrone the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Magic. Kevin Garnett still seems to be dragging his right leg defensively but he has regained enough lift to once again be effective in the post as a turnaround jump shooter and the Celtics will need for him to average at least 15 ppg with a decent shooting percentage in order to beat the Magic.
Orlando will win because…the Magic are talented, deep, defensive-minded, unselfish and focused--which is not to say that the Celtics do not also possess many of those qualities but the Magic have them in abundance. While I do think that the Celtics are better equipped--both from a personnel standpoint and schematically--to guard Howard than many other teams, the Magic are an excellent passing team loaded with great shooters, so the Celtics will have their hands full. The Celtics were a below average rebounding team during the regular season, they struggled at times at home and they gave up a lot of leads; Cleveland did not exploit any of those tendencies in the previous round but Orlando is likely to take advantage of Boston's weaknesses.
This is Vince Carter's opportunity to change some of the negative aspects of his reputation by playing a key role on a team that advances to the NBA Finals and, possibly, wins a championship; his matchup versus Ray Allen should be very interesting to watch, as either player could very well be called upon to hit a game-winning shot during this series. I think that Carter has more bounce left in his legs than a lot of people realize and that he will have a good series, though because of Orlando's balance his overall numbers may not be eye-popping.
Other things to consider: The Celtics just took out the number one overall seed in this year's playoffs. Rondo is emerging right before our eyes as a top five point guard, while Kevin Garnett had a greater impact versus the Cavs than anyone could have reasonably expected based on how he looked during the regular season. The Celtics are a former champion who should not be taken lightly and they did push Orlando to seven games last season despite being without the services of Garnett--but the Magic were also shorthanded due to Jameer Nelson's injury and the Magic have upgraded their roster since last season, adding Carter, Matt Barnes and Brandon Bass.
Did the Celtics really rejuvenate themselves versus Cleveland or did the Cavs just follow the lead of their superstar and quit when things got tough? With all due respect to Boston--and I have a lot of respect for the Celtics--I think that the latter had more to do with the result of the Boston-Cleveland series than the former. The Celtics will play hard versus the Magic and each game will likely be very closely contested but I expect that Orlando will win in fewer than seven games.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:36 AM