Celtics - Magic preview: New month, new Celtics?

Celtics - Magic preview: New month, new Celtics?
February 2, 2014, 11:00 am
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BOSTON — The Boston Celtics are no different than most teams with goals for each game, each week, each month of the season.

There's no doubt the Celtics fell short - well short - of accomplishing anything of note other than a franchise record for losses (15) in one month.

But as they have done all season, the Celtics are eager to move on with hopes that what's on the horizon will be more picturesque than what thus far has been a pretty ugly season.

"This is a new month for us, a new opportunity," said Jeff Green.

The focus now is to head into the All-Star break with some momentum, and return from the break to close out the season strong.

"We have to find ways to win games," said Kris Humphries. "It's all about the next game, Orlando."

Like Boston, the Magic have been among the NBA's worst teams this season with victories few and far between.

The Celtics' had a very thin margin for error to start the season. Throw in injuries, trades and the normal mental and physical fatigue that comes within an 82-game season, ... welcome to the 2013-2014 Boston Celtics season.

Still, players refuse to use those factors as an excuse for their poor record this season.

But because the Eastern Conference has so many sub-.500 teams, the Celtics are only a good week or two away from being back in the playoff hunt.

And having that kind of momentum heading into the break, at least for players like Avery Bradley, bodes well for the team's chances down the home stretch of this season.

"The biggest thing since I've been here is after the break," Bradley said. "How do we respond after the break? It shows what kind of team we are, what kind of vets we have. That's why every year I've been here after the break, we play well."

Here are some other keys in today's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With Avery Bradley back, look for the Celtics to make freeing him up for mid-range shots a primary mission. The team has struggled to make shots, and Bradley has been one of the few consistent shooters this season.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger vs Nikola Vucevic

The only thing that has limited Sullinger this year is his health; specifically the sprained ligaments in his left hand and the dislocated index finger in his right (shooting) hand. Today the Celtics will need his defense against Vucevic, a borderline All-Star talent who has 17 double-doubles in just 30 games played this season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:  Jerryd Bayless has been decent for the Celtics, but he hasn't had that "Bayless" game; the one where it seems everything he tosses up goes in. The Celtics have seen that plenty of times when he played elsewhere. Considering how desperate Boston is these days for shot-makers, this would be a good time for a breakout game from Bayless.

STAT TO TRACK: Orlando has played a lot of small ball this season, evident by them being second-to-last in the NBA in points in the paint (36.3). But that number should see a slight spike with Vucevic back in the lineup. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been pretty average in defending the paint, giving up 42.5 points per game in the paint which is tied for 16th in the league.