Celtics face off with potential first-round foe Sixers

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Celtics face off with potential first-round foe Sixers

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON It's that time of year again when teams look at these final few games as tune-ups for the playoffs.

This could not be any truer for the Boston Celtics.

Among those teams is tonight's opponent, Philadelphia, a team that the Celtics would have to face in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today.

These two have met three times, with the Celtics winning the first two meetings.

However, every game came down to the final minute with the total margin of victory in the three games totaling just eight points.

The last time these two met, the Sixers escaped with an 89-86 win.

Celtics guard Ray Allen recognizes that tonight's game may be a playoff preview of sorts for both teams.

But his motivation goes deeper than that.

"I'm mad that they beat us last time," said Allen, who had five points on 2-for-11 shooting in the loss on March 11. "That's got to be fresh on everybody's mind, knowing that we're at home and we have to right the ship."

Although Boston has the second-best home record (30-8) this season, they've dropped two of their last three at the TD Garden.

One of the few players who performed well for Boston in their three-point loss to the Sixers last month, was center Nenad Krstic. He had 16 points and a season-high 15 rebounds in the loss.

Krstic suffered a bone bruise to his right knee against San Antonio last week, and has missed Boston's last two games. He was able to practice with the team on Monday, and he will play tonight.

The news isn't as rosy for Shaquille O'Neal, who re-aggravated a strained right calf injury that sidelined him earlier this season. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said O'Neal might be back as early as the end of this week. On Friday, the C's host Washington.

But with only a handful of regular season games remaining, Rivers wouldn't rule out shutting down O'Neal until the start of the playoffs.

"If that's what it requires," Rivers said. "We're going to do whatever they (doctors) tell us is required. Other than that, I would love to play him a couple games."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

WATCH: Celtics vs. Magic

WATCH: Celtics vs. Magic

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Celtics-Magic preview: Orlando's poor offense gives C's chance to bounce back

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Celtics-Magic preview: Orlando's poor offense gives C's chance to bounce back

Talk about your basketball extremes.

After losing a 107-106 heartbreaker to Houston and their high-powered offense on Monday, the Boston Celtics will be in for a very different -- and less successful -- foe tonight in the Orlando Magic.

The Magic beat Washington 124-116 on Tuesday night despite John Wall’s 52-point effort, but have been one of the NBA’s most offensively challenged teams this season.

Orlando ranks near the bottom in scoring (29th, 94.6 points per game), field goal percentage (28th, .426) and Pace (24th, 96.71) this season.

But Frank Vogel’s crew has been a defensive force thus far in the East even if their record might suggest otherwise.

They rank among the league’s best in several defensive categories such as scoring defense (4th, 98.0 points per game allowed); opponent 3-point percentage (3rd, 33.0 percent), opponent 3-point attempts (4th, 23.6) in addition to allowing a league-low 8.0 made 3's per game.

That will be a stark contrast from the let-it-fly-all-night style Boston had to contend with against the high-scoring Rockets on Monday.

But this set of games is exactly why Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made of point of trying to put together a roster that was heavy on athleticism and versatility both in the frontcourt as well as on the perimeter.

Against Houston, Tyler Zeller recorded his first DNP-CD (Did not play -- coaches decision) of the season which made sense considering Houston basically plays void of a traditional center.

Orlando, that’s a different story.

Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic now coming off the bench form a physical triumvirate of big men that can cause lots of problems for a Celtics team that will look to attack the paint often.

When it comes to scoring in the restricted area, the Magic allow opponents to shoot 57.6 percent which ranks seventh in the league. They rank highly when it comes to defending mid-range shots (5-10th, 38.3 percent), corner 3's (6th, 34.5 percent) and above-the-break 3's (8th, 33.8 percent) as well.

And while they have had their issues offensively this season, their recent run of success has been in part aided by a much-improved offensive showing. In their last five games, they are shooting 48.5 percent from the field which ranks fifth in the NBA in that span. For the season, the Magic rank 28th while connecting on 42.6 percent of their shots.

Orlando’s improved shooting with a defense that’s stingy as ever, will make this a tough game for Boston to come away with a victory.

Just as the Magic seek to continue their successful ways, the Celtics come into this game with something to prove as well.

While the missed lay-ups by Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas in the final minute of Monday’s 107-106 loss certainly were factors in the game’s outcome, there were a series of miscommunications earlier in the quarter that fueled Houston’s late surge.

Following the game, Isaiah Thomas pointed out how he called out a play that Jonas Jerebko interpreted as another play the Celtics called.

The miscommunication led to a turnover and subsequent lay-up which in hindsight looms huge considering the margin of victory was just one point.

“The two play calls sound alike,” Thomas told reporters afterwards. “In the heat of battle, I have to do a better job of making sure everybody knows what play we’re running. He (Jerebko) handed the ball back to me when the play wasn’t to hand the ball back to me. That was one of the turnovers that was the key.

Thomas added, “It’s not his fault. As a group, as a point guard, I have to do a better job of letting my guys know what play we’re running. Those little things, especially on the road, those make you lose games. But that wasn’t the play that made us lose. I’m not putting this on Jonas at all.”

Indeed, this team’s success as well as their struggles are the collective efforts of all their core players, Thomas included.

And for them to get back on track, it won’t be one or two players that will make it happen.

It’ll be a team effort, the kind that will allow Boston to find success against different teams no matter how extremely different their styles of play may be.