Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: Boston at Orlando
by Matt Severance - 01/22/2009
In my opinion, almost everything points to an Orlando Magic victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night in what could easily be an Eastern Conference Finals preview (pipe down, Cavs fans) in the opening game of the TNT doubleheader.
Here are my reasons:
--The Magic have the revenge factor working. The Celtics embarrassed them, 107-88, on Dec. 1 for Orlando's worst loss of the season. Of course, that Celtic team was in the midst of its eventual 19-game winning streak.
--Orlando is riding an NBA-high seven-game winning streak, with three of those wins coming at West powers San Antonio, Denver and the Lakers. Orlando also hasn't lost at home since Nov. 22 against the Rockets.
"They're winning games," Boston coach Doc Rivers said to reporters. "I think the public is finally waking up to them. Last year, they had the second or third best road record in the NBA. They advanced in the playoffs for the first time in a while. They deserve to be in the discussion.
"Right now, there's nobody in the NBA playing better than Orlando."
--Orlando is money from behind the three-point line. The Magic average an NBA-high 10.5 three-pointers made per game and make them slightly more than 40 percent of the time, also tops in the league.
--The Magic will be rested, having not played since a win in Denver on Saturday night. This will be Boston's fourth game since Saturday, and the C's will be on the back end of a back-to-back after facing the Heat in Miami on Wednesday night. Boston also is 1-5 ATS in its past six visits to Orlando, while the Magic are 4-0 ATS in the past four Thursday games.
"It means a lot," Magic forward Rashard Lewis said to the AP. "Obviously, Eastern Conference game, one of the best teams in the conference, last year's champion. We're at a point where we want to get home-court advantage throughout the whole playoffs, so this game means a lot. At the end of the season, it's going to come down to games like this."
--In Jameer Nelson, the Magic may have a rare edge over Boston and Rajon Rondo at point guard. Nelson had an amazing previous week, earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors after averaging 24.7 points, 8.0 assists and 1.7 steals a game.
The backcourt was thought to be the Magic's weak link, but Nelson is playing like an All-Star, and rookie Courtney Lee has started the past seven games (all wins, remember) and is averaging 10.1 points as a starter.
Nelson's 17.1-point scoring average is almost five points above his career numbers. He ranks first and Rondo second in shooting among all guards in the NBA. Did I mention Nelson didn't play in that first meeting with Boston?
"We match up well," Nelson said to reporters. "We're coming into the game full-strength for the most part. It'll be a good game."
--I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Dwight Howard as a reason the Magic should win. The MVP candidate averages 20.2 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per contest. Those final two are league-highs, as are his 31 double-doubles on the season.
By the way, these same Magic will be in another TNT possible East Finals preview next Thursday against LeBron and the Cavs. That's why Thursday's game with the C's is so big - Orlando hasn't yet beaten Boston or Detroit this year or played the Cavs, so it can make a statement before facing the other East power. The line for tonight's game has the Magic listed as five-point favorites with the total sitting at 192 ½. Bet the game at BetUS.