Orlando at Boston
Time: 6:30 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: ORL -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The drought has finally apparently ended for the Orlando Magic. Though it has yet to clinch the postseason, it has the inside track on the Miami Heat to secure the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. It will mean colliding in the first round of the playoffs with the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks, but Orlando has fared well against the East’s top teams this year and defeated Milwaukee already this season. While the Magic are just 15-24 on the road and will not have home court advantage, the Magic have been hot: It has won eight of its last 10 games to surge to a tie with No.6 Brooklyn at 40-40 this season.
The Magic won its most recent outing 114-100 over the New York Knicks and it had won six-straight before dropping two of its last four outings. The Magic fell 109-121 to Toronto and 98-115 to the Detroit Pistons but knocked off the Pacers and Knicks and it leads the Southeast Division despite being under .500 on the season.
Nikola Vucevic will be a free agent this offseason after making his first All-Star team this year for Orlando. The center has averaged 20.7 points, 12 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.1 blocks/steals while posting a team-best PER of 25.44. It has cushioned the non-development of Aaron Gordon, who seems by and large to have stalled out at a marginally productive player. Gordon averages just under 16 points and six rebounds per game, while Evan Fournier has become a steady No. 3 option rather than the leading-scorer he once was. Terrence Ross has largely saved the season for the Magic, and he averages 14.6 points in just 26 minutes a night while providing most of the bench sparks and scoring. The Magic remain in search of a point guard, while it boasts a long, defensive frontcourt: Jonathan Isaac is blossoming. Isaac is averaging a humble 9.5 points per game, but he has been one of the team’s best defenders and comes up with 2.1 steals/blocks in just 26 minutes a night while providing lockdown defense on both 3s and 4s.
The Magic do have a strong defensive identity, but it remains to be seen whether it can make real waves with the stop-gap point guard of DJ Augustin. Ideally, Markelle Fultz fulfills his lofty potential, but the Magic did little more than “take a waiver” on the talents of the former No. 1 overall pick. The Magic could make an angle to trade up in the draft to secure one of the top point guards in the 2019 draft class, but the teams at the top are just as likely to covet the likes of Ja Morant.
The Boston Celtics have lost five of its last 10 games to fall to 48-32 on the season, and it is seeded No. 4 in the East— if the playoffs began today, Boston would have home-court advantage in the first round against the Indiana Pacers.
Boston still sports as deep and quality a rotation as any team in the East. Jayson Tatum has quietly improved his efficiency in his sophomore season and is averaging 16.3 points per game on 45.1 percent field goals and 37.2 percent three-pointers. The Celtics have seven players averaging eight points per game or better, and it has a solid 10-man rotation that will serve it well in the postseason, even if Brad Stevens tightens up the rotation to 8 or 9 players, as most coaches do.
Franchise player Kyrie Irving still lingers as a potential loss in free agency, as he will have to be re-signed, but he is having an outstanding season.
Irving is averaging 23.8 points, five rebounds, and seven assists per game while posting a team-best PER of 25.46. Tatum, Marcus Morris, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward all average double-figures, and the C’s still are not really getting from Hayward what it thought it might when it signed him as a free agent. Hayward was a borderline superstar with the Utah Jazz, but he still is trying to regain that form following his broken ankle he suffered in the opener last season.