OFFSEASON

Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

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 CSNNE.com. "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 sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

OFFSEASON

Celtics must address needs with free agency on the horizon

Celtics must address needs with free agency on the horizon

BOSTON -- With more salary cap space than they've ever had along with a slew of clear and well-defined needs, the Celtics are sure to be one of the busier teams when free agency begins on Friday.

And while the Celtics’ needs may be all over the place, there is one thing that head coach Brad Stevens and the rest of the Boston Celtics have made no secret about wanting to come away with this offseason.

“The need for increased versatility,” Stevens said.

Indeed, Stevens envisions the NBA becoming more of a position-less league going forward.

When you look at the Cleveland Cavaliers rallying from a 3-1 deficit to knock off Golden State, of course LeBron James was brilliant as well as Kyrie Irving. 

But one of the more stealth keys to that series that factored into its outcome, was the way Cleveland's 6-foot-9 power forward/center Tristan Thompson was able to hold his own defensively against two-time league MVP guard, 6-3 Stephen Curry.

His play was as clear an example of the value in having players with defensive versatility as you will find.

It also has value on the offensive end of the floor as well. 

That helps explain why LSU’s Ben Simmons was selected with the top overall pick, a player with power forward size (6-10, 240) with point guard-like vision.

And in many ways it speaks to why the Celtics decided to draft Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 pick instead of a playmaker like Providence College’s Kris Dunn or sharpshooters like Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield or Kentucky’s Jamal Murray.

Brown stands 6-7, weighs 223 pounds and has a 7-foot wingspan with elite athleticism and quickness getting to the paint. 

“Very few guys can move like Jaylen, can move at his size and at his length,” Stevens said. “So the defensive versatility is a big piece of that; that should be transferable right away.”

As for free agency, the same mantra – seek out versatile players – will remain in effect for Boston.

Of course Kevin Durant is at the top of the Celtics’ free agent wish list after Durant reportedly included Boston on the list of teams he will meet with in New York shortly after free agency begins.

In addition to the Celtics and his current team Oklahoma City, Durant is also planning to talk with officials from the following teams: Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami and San Antonio.

Along with Durant, the Celtics are also expected to express interest in Atlanta’s Al Horford; New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson; and possibly Golden State’s Harrison Barnes who will be a restricted free agent which often serves as a deterrent for potential suitors. However, Barnes could wind up being an unrestricted free agent if the Warriors feel as though they will land Durant.

Regardless of which free agents wind up in Boston, you can count on versatility being one of their strengths.

“I only look at the game in four spots; ball-handlers, wings, guys that can play that three-swing spot (some power forward as well as small forward) and bigs,” Stevens said. “The more versatile, the more position-less, the better. That overall provides more opportunities than it does not. That’s a positive when you talk about guys that can do different things at different positions.”