Two nights ago, the Boston Celtics turned in their most gratifying win of the season, a 108-100 upending of an Oklahoma City Thunder team that many still believe to be the best in the West, James Harden or no. Tonight, they set up shop in Orlando, the petri dish that spawned a thousand boy bands, to take on a Magic squad that leads the league in games with 75 or fewer points scored. They’ve done that four times. Six other teams have done it once, and they’ve all done it only once. Yikes.
At present, Orlando’s record stands at 5-7, fourth in their division and eleventh in the conference overall. Their Basketball-Reference-calculated defensive rating of 101.4 is fourth-best in the league; their offensive rating of 97.8 is second-worst.
After opening the season with a surprising pair of semi-blowouts over the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, the Magic endured a five-game losing streak, smack in the middle of which they erected a towering monument to ineptitude – a 107-68 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Fun fact: the Magic have scored 68 points or fewer 13 times in their two decades of operation. Four of those games were played within the last year. These included an 87-56 wipeout at the hands of the Boston Celtics, in which they set franchise records for fewest points and worst field goal percentage (.246), and a league record for fewest field goals made (16). The Celtics’ defensive effort was keyed by Avery Bradley, who provided one of our favorite defensive highlights from last season.
The Magic played the whole of their losing streak without starting point guard Jameer Nelson, whose various strains had kept him out of action since the second game of the season. Since his return, Orlando has gone 3-2, beating the woeful Detroit Pistons twice and the equally subpar Cleveland Cavaliers once. In the three wins, Nelson averaged 15.0 points, with percentages of .444 from the field and .412 from downtown, along with 7.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds. In the two losses he made it 8.0 points (.286/.182) with 5.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds.
Some will say that correlation does not imply causation; others will tell you that as goes the point guard, so goes the team. That second statement is especially true when the team in question is built like the Magic, whose lightly-regarded youngsters (four rookies, three sophomores, one third-year man) outnumber their adequate-at-best vets (Jameer, Aaron Afflalo, Big Baby Davis, J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Josh McRob-Job) eight to six. When your experience lacks talent and your other guys lack both, the very least one might ask for is a steady hand to control the chaos.
The Celtics have already caught a beating from one bad team this season, taking a 103-83 loss from the 3-10 Pistons one week ago. The Celtics were playing the second game of a home-road back-to-back and their fifth in seven days. The toll that the heavy workload had taken on their legs was evident in the 20-4 advantage on fast break points that they surrendered.
Beyond merely catching them at an inopportune time, Detroit was not an ideal matchup for the C’s. The Pistons make their offensive living on the interior, getting up an average of 31 shots per game at the rim, the most that they shoot from any distance on the floor. The Celtics, meanwhile, have been especially vulnerable on the inside, allowing opponents to connect on 69.6 percent of their shot attempts from up close. We can’t say where this ranks until Hoopdata updates their G.D. shot location database, but we can say that a week ago this would have been the third-worst mark in the league.
Predictably, the Celtics gave up a 44-30 edge on points in the paint, as the Pistons connected on 20 of their 27 rim attempts. Overall, Detroit made 54.2 percent of their shots, the third-largest percentage the Celtics have allowed this season.
Orlando may not be as equipped to take advantage of the Celtics’ weaknesses. They prefer the short- to mid-range game, averaging 11.8 shots from 3-9 feet (third-most in the league), 8.3 from 10-15 (most in the league), and 23.1 from 16-23 (seventh-most). While the Celtics have allowed opponents to connect on 40.8 percent of their shots from 3-9 (ninth-worst a week ago), the 37.4 percent they’ve allowed from 10-15 and 34.3 from 16-23 rate as passable (eleventh in the league) and pretty good (fifth) respectively.
More importantly, the Magic will (probably) struggle to mitigate Boston’s biggest offensive strength. The Celtics do the bulk of their work from the 16-23 foot range, connecting on a scorching 45.6 percent of their 23.6 attempts from that distance. Orlando has allowed opponents to put up an average of 20.8 attempts (eighth-most) from 16-23, which go down at a rate of .440 per (second-highest). Be on the lookout for sharp shooting from Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry, and Courtney Lee, who have all favored that range this year.
On a personal note, it will be nice to visit with old friends Glen Davis and E’Twaun Moore again. As you’ll recall, E’Twaun appeared in 38 of the Celtics’ games last season, showing a little bit of a three-point stroke (37.8 percent) in less than 10 minutes of action per game. His best game came in a 91-83 Celtics win over the Magic, in which his 16 points (12 of which came off a 4-4 night from downtown) helped drive a remarkable 27-point comeback, resulting in an absolute world-beater of a postgame interview with Kevin Garnett.
E’Twaun has been getting some serious burn with the Magic, starting six of 12 games and averaging 11.1 points (.432 from the field, .439 from downtown), 3.8 assists, and 3.0 rebounds in nearly 30 minutes of action per.
Big Baby, meanwhile, has been a critical part of Orlando’s post-Dwight landscape, putting up career highs in points (14.9), rebounds (8.9), and assists (2.1) in his second season with the team. He’s also continued to prove himself as one of the most reliable quotes in the game, emerging with this gem on teammate Nikola Vucevic after Friday’s 104-100 win over the Cavaliers:
"You’ve got to feed him nails and hot sauce. That’s how you’ve got to do it with guys like that; big upside, but never really had to bite anybody. You’ve got to get him to bite somebody."
As always, best of luck to you, Glen!
 All shot location data regarding the Pistons and Magic comes from Hoopdata, which was last updated on 11/17. While these numbers have undoubtedly changed in the past eight days, we’re certain that the trends they suggest – Detroit prefers to attack the rim, Orlando from the mid-range – still hold. All shot location data regarding the Celtics is from our personal records and is current through 11/23.