No. 2 Boston Celtics (-110) vs. No. 3 Orlando Magic (-110)
Records: Boston (66-23, 46-42-1 ATS), Orlando (63-25, 51-36-1 ATS)
Season Series: Split 2-2
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Overview: These teams are meeting in a second-round tilt that many predicted would be the Eastern Conference finals matchup before the season started. Both have hardly had time to catch their breath after squeaking by first-round opponents that weren't expected to put up much of a fight.
The second-seeded Celtics were fortunate to survive a major scare from No. 7 Chicago, while the third-seeded Magic had to fight hard to ward off the pesky Philadelphia 76ers, who were the No. 6 seed.
Without Kevin Garnett in the lineup to protect the basket, the Celtics founds themselves in a pretty fair fight against the surging Chicago Bulls, which resulted in a classic seven-game series that saw Boston prevail on its home floor in Game 7.
The Celtics, minus their championship-caliber defense, ended up basically trading baskets with the equally offensive-minded Bulls. Led by Ben Gordon, who might have the highest degree of difficult shot making the league has seen in recent memory, Chicago put up a valiant effort that came up just short.
Although he was grateful to survive, it certainly wasn't the type of series Celtics coach Doc Rivers was looking for. However, Boston was similarly pushed to seven games by an outclassed Atlanta team in last year's playoffs, and still managed to win the championship.
Orlando was fortunate to get past a gritty Philadelphia team that found a way to give it fits at every turn. The Magic had trouble with ball security and getting key defensive stops down the stretch.
Orlando appeared to be in big trouble - and headed for a certain Game 7 - when Dwight Howard was suspended for Game 6 in Philadelphia because of a flagrant foul. Instead, his absence turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This is because it forced Orlando's supporting cast to step up, which hadn't happened for most of the series, and it also served as a wake-up to call to Rashard Lewis. Orlando's other superstar had struggled through the series, but scored 29 in Orlando's 114-89 win to seal the series.
The 76ers had seemed content to let Howard run roughshod over them and dare his Orlando teammates to beat them. For the most part, it worked, and the Magic will surely need more consistency from Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and others if they are going to eliminate the NBA defending champions.
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Value: Boston. The Celtics have the pedigree and the talent to get past Orlando even without Garnett. They are unlikely to be able to stop Howard but should be able to limit the effectiveness of his supporting cast. Boston also has a huge edge in coaching, as Doc Rivers has proven to be a master strategist and motivator. Stan Van Gundy, on the other hand, has given fodder to his critics because of some questionable coaching decisions and a firm-hand approach that wears thin with NBA players. Both teams have won on the other's court this season, as they split the series 2-2. However, the home team is 21-9 ATS in this matchup over the past 30 games.
Prediction: Celtics in seven games.