Orlando at Boston
Time: 6:30 PM CST (ESPN)
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The Boston Celtics have won its last four and will host the visiting Orlando Magic at 6:30 PM (CST) on ESPN. The Magic have lost seven of its last 10 SU and are just 9-16 on the road where it encounters the Celtics.
The Boston Celtics are clearly a better team without Kyrie Irving. Boston is 34-15 and is currently seeded No. 3 in the Eastern Conference.
Kemba Walker has stepped into the role of No. 1 scorer, and he is averaging 21.6 points and 5.2 assists in his first season as a Celtic. Jayson Tatum, too, has stepped it up in his third season. The former Duke swingman is averaging 20.9 points and seven rebounds per game. And if that was not enough, Jaylen Brown has taken on a much bigger scoring role in averaging just under 20 points per game. Adding to this trio, Gordon Hayward is progressing well from his surgery and should be back in the lineup soon. The C’s are locked and loaded and absolute contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Boston averages 111.2 points per game this season while continuing to play its tough brand of defense. The team shoots 45.8 percent from the floor and 35.4 percent on threes (33.5 attempts per game). Boston also is still waiting for eventual-starting center Enes Kanter to round into shape following an injury to starting the season. Kanter has shown bright flashes, but his consistency is something the C’s are trying to figure out. Daniel Theis performed admirably in his absence, but Kanter will bring a scoring punch to the 5-spot that Theis and Robert Williams III cannot.
Marcus Smart continues to function well as a jack-of-all-trades sixth man, or a “stretch-6” as he called himself in the preseason. Smart is averaging 11.4 points and 4.7 assists per game and can provide defense at all positions. The Celtics depth is functional— in the sense that its backups provide different looks and strengths than its starters. Carsen Edwards has looked good in limited minutes and will be a solid backup for Walker for the first three seasons of his NBA career. The Celtics just have a lot going on, and even without Hayward and Kanter, this team has rolled to a .750 winning percentage thus far.
ORLANDO NEWS & NOTES:
The Orlando Magic have to be somewhat pleased with its internal progress. At 22-28 and in possession of a No. 8 seed, the Magic are reeling. It has lost seven of its last 10 SU.
Even so, there are a number of glaring issues that will likely cause Orlando to bow out in the first round of the NBA playoffs for a second straight season, but there are enough bright spots for the Magic to know things are at least headed in the right direction. The Magic possesses the league’s No. 30 ranked offense and only score 103.3 per game, but it has been one of the league’s better defensive teams in holding opponents to 104.6 per. The Magic are six games below .500, so it is no surprise to see it with a -1.3 point differential.
The Magic are a team without a single player who could be a No. 2 option on a contending team, yet have played together in such a way as to maximize the gifts of both Vucevic and star-wing player Evan Fournier. Fournier was outstanding while Vucevic was out, and the Magic are hoping he continues the aggressive play with the starting 5-man back in the fold.
One the season, the Frenchman is averaging 19.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 0.9 steals per game, while posting the highest PER on the team (outside of Vucevic’s 21.54) of all active players right now. Aaron Gordon has been his usual inconsistent self, and clearly now appears to be hitting something close to his eventual peak—the notion he is going to be a breakout player every year should surely die its slow death finally. Gordon averages 13 points and seven rebounds per game, but he shoots just 41 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three this season.
Third-year forward Jonathan Isaac has emerged into one of the league’s best one-on-one defenders, but he is still trying to figure things out on the offensive end, mostly. He just suffered a tragic hyperextension to his knee that will leave him out at least the next eight weeks. Prior to suffering that injury, Isaac averaged 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.8 steal/blocks per game. Isaac also gets 2.6 blocks per contest while doing a good job of avoiding foul trouble. His defense is clean and deadly.
Markelle Fultz is rounding into form after battling bizarre injury diagnoses his first two seasons before being traded to the Magic. Fultz is averaging 11.7 points and 4.1 assists per game, but he is really probably just scratching the surface as a once-vaunted former No. 1 overall pick.
Former Texas product and rookie Mo Bamba has shown flashes, including a very efficient and strong three-point shot, but he is not ready for the bulk of the center minutes yet, so Orlando has played Khem Birch extensively due to his sharp defensive institutions and his reliability on both ends of the court. Birch has limited upside comparatively, but Orlando is focused on winning now, returning to the playoffs, and allowing its team to blossom, far more than obtaining another high draft pick. That is especially due to the fact that the best pick of Orlando’s rebuild (Victor Oladipo) is now starring for the Indiana Pacers.