Key questions heading into round two

Ever since the news came out that Kevin Garnett would miss the playoffs with a knee injury, the same question constantly came up: How are the Celtics going to beat Cleveland without Garnett? Well, some people in Orlando are wondering — how are the Celtics going to beat the Magic? In the two team’s final two meetings of the season — when the Magic had Rafer Alston and KG was limited — the Magic won both times. Dwight Howard averaged 21 points and 17 boards in those two games, after historically struggling against Big Three-era Boston. Paul Pierce shot 39 percent in those games, while usually having his way with Orlando. The Celtics put up two of their worst offensive showings. That leads us into the first of three questions entering this series. Were the Magic’s last two victories against Boston an aberration? Boston’s three lowest assist totals of the season are against the Magic: 9 on Jan. 22, 10 on March 8 and 14 on March 25. The Magic have done an extraordinary job cutting off the passing lanes against the Celtics. It’s clear Orlando has spent a lot of time watching film on the Celtics — they seem to know what Boston is going to do and where it wants to go with the ball. Against the Magic, most of Boston’s points come from isolation plays to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. That’s a different story than against most other teams, when the Celtics zip the ball around and thrive on ball movement and off-screen shooting. How much will Courtney Lee’s absence hurt the Magic? The Magic need Lee to get back as soon as possible — put on a mask, take some morphine, whatever needs to be done. With all due respect to JJ Redick, who played admirably in Orlando’s series-clinching victory against the Sixers, he simply can’t get through screens and challenge Ray Allen the way Lee can. Lee held Allen to 6-of-14 shooting last time these teams met, and he did it by relentlessly pushing through myriad screens and not leaving his feet on Allen’s ball fakes. Lee being healthy for Game 3 is almost necessary for the Magic to win this series. What do the Magic have to do to win? Well, they have to play a lot better than they did against Philadelphia. But in many ways, Philadelphia was not a good matchup for Orlando. The Magic like to push the ball and find open 3s before the opposing defense is set — the Sixers are a fast, hustling team that didn’t allow the Magic to thrive on this tactic. The Celtics are many things, but fast isn’t one of them. The Magic will be able to push the ball on Boston and get some open looks through transition. Most importantly, the Magic need to find the happy medium between their stagnant offense with Dwight Howard and their wide-open offense without Howard. They played a brilliant offensive game in Game 6, and they need to find a way to keep that team cohesion and ball movement alive even with Howard in the game. If they can do that — and of course, play the same defense that has given Boston problems this season — the Magic can win this series.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily