Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

By A. Sherrod Blakely

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have the best record in the Eastern Conference in part because of their ability to remain poised under pressure.

It is a quality trait that Orlando center Dwight Howard recognizes not only in the Celtics, but his own club as well.

They certainly played that way on Christmas when they rallied from six points down to start the fourth quarter before defeating the C's 86-78.

In that game, Orlando kept the Celtics without a field goal for the final 3:21.

"We know how to win," Howard said. "With the guys we brought back, Hedo (Turkoglu) and the new guys, we just know how to play. We didn't get frustrated that we were down. We just played. That's what good teams do."

One of the keys to tonight's game will be how Howard handles Shaquille O'Neal.

When the two teams met on Christmas, O'Neal was a non-factor with just two points in 13 foul-plagued minutes.

Howard had foul problems of his own, but still managed to play 33 minutes and score six points to go with 11 rebounds.

"He's a big guy," Howard said of O'Neal. "You have to meet him early, don't let him get good position. That's about it. He doesn't move like he used to. You just don't want him to catch it under the basket."

If O'Neal can play more and the Celtics get Kevin Garnett back following a nine-game absence because of a lower right leg injury, the C's will be well-positioned to exact revenge on their Christmas day loss.

"It should be a good game," Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu told "They have a lot of experience, good players. It won't be easy beating them again."

Howard echoed similar sentiments.

"They're a great team," he said. "They're smart; they're veterans. They know how to win. That's the challenge right there. You never see those guys flustered or worried about what's going on around them. They just continue to do what they do."

Boston is hoping "to do what they do" with Kevin Garnett in the lineup.

Garnett has missed Boston's last nine games with a muscle strain in his lower right leg. He was able to go through all of Boston's practice on Saturday, which was among the things head coach Doc Rivers was looking for.

Following practice, Rivers said Garnett would probably play unless something unexpected happens with his body.

Although the C's have managed to win without Garnett, it was clear that the injuries were starting to take a toll on the team.

"Kevin's our it's like losing your best defensive player, your best talker and your quarterback," Rivers said.

He quipped, "outside of that, it's not that big a deal."

The same isn't necessarily true about when these two teams meet.

While Rivers acknowledges that it is just another regular season game, "there's history between us and all that stuff; you always want to win. The games don't literally have meaning, but guys get fired up for games like this or at least I hope they do. I like games like this. It's good for us."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Celtics to begin season with Marcus Smart on the shelf


Celtics to begin season with Marcus Smart on the shelf

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics will be a bit shorthanded for the first few games of the season with Marcus Smart being out with a left ankle sprain injury.
The Celtics were holding out slim hope that it would heal in time for tomorrow’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Smart confirmed a report shortly after the injury on October 19 that it would likely be at least a couple weeks before he returned to action.
Following Tuesday’s practice, one in which Smart watched from the sidelines, he gave an update on his ankle injury which occurred in the Celtics’ last preseason game, a 121-96 loss to the New York Knicks.
“A couple weeks, that’s the projection (of a return) they gave me,” Smart said. “They want to make sure we can limit this from happening again.”
Smart said the two-week timetable began from the time of his injury, which means it’s likely that he will miss the Celtics’ first four games of the season.
That’s a much rosier timetable than the left ankle sprain injury Smart suffered as a rookie which kept him sidelined for several weeks afterwards.
“It shouldn’t be too long,” Smart said. “Better safe than sorry.”
His absence will certainly have an impact on a Celtics defense that ranked among the NBA’s best a year ago, and has only gotten stronger with the addition of Al Horford.
But the Celtics have been a "next man up" team for since Stevens has been the head coach. With Smart out, that’s not going to change.
“That’ll be a great opportunity for someone else to step up in his place,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
Boston guard Isaiah Thomas echoed similar thoughts.
“When somebody’s hurt, the next man has to step up,” Thomas said. “Guys have to take advantage of these opportunities.”
And for Smart, it’ll mean displaying his leadership skills from the sideline.
He’s totally comfortable taking on that role right now.
For his teammates, it might take a little bit of getting used to. Smart has been very loquacious on the Celtics sideline since suffering the injury.
“These last four days, he has been yelling … I told him to shut up a few times,” quipped Isaiah Thomas. “That’s just him, especially when he’s not playing. He’s very vocal.”
Terry Rozier, the likely benefactor in terms of minutes played due to Smart’s injury, agreed.
“He’s been sitting right there in that seat,” said Rozier, adding, “and he hasn’t shut up yet. It’s good; you’re going to need a guy like that who is going to talk to you. It’s like a guy, he says things … it’s like he’s been in the league 10 years. He knows his stuff.”
Smart’s knowledge bank includes understanding that his current injury will probably happen again at some point. The key isn’t dealing with the injury, but how you move forward from it.
“This isn’t my first ankle sprain and I know it won’t be my last,” Smart said. “I just have to let it heal on its own and let your body do what it does.”

Celtics pay tribute to Craig Sager in Tuesday's practice


Celtics pay tribute to Craig Sager in Tuesday's practice

The NBA is honoring longtime TNT broadcaster Craig Sager to begin the season, with teams wearing Sager-themed shirts across the league. 

Sager, 65, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2014, and it was announced in March that he had an expected three-to-six months to live. 

The Celtics celebrated Sager in full force at the end of Tuesday’s practice, changing into shirts with multi-colored flowers and clashing patterns in an ode to Sager’s signature style. The group gathered for pictures and shouted “Sager Strong,” a hashtag that’s circulated in support of the 65-year-old. 

After news emerged that his cancer had returned in March, TNT worked out a deal with ABC that allowed Sager to cover the NBA Finals for the first time in his 34-year career, leading to a memorable exchange with LeBron James after the Cavaliers won the NBA title.