With the Orlando Magic ready to take on the Boston Celtics tomorrow night in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, I think now is a good time to take a look at the keys to the series for Orlando.
I wish I could address all of them (there's so many), but it'd be way too time-consuming. It's important to note that this list is an overview, and its items are not ranked in order of importance.
Involve Dwight Howard in the Pick & Roll - It's no secret that Kendrick Perkins has been one of the few centers in the NBA who has been able to effectively contain Dwight Howard this year, and in past years, due to his size (6'10'', 280 lbs) and strength. However, head coach Stan Van Gundy has an answer for Howard's troubles versus Perkins: the pick & roll.
It's unwise for Howard to strictly post up Perkins on the low block because Perkins has the strength to put a body on Howard and push him out of the paint. Instead, Howard needs to use his athleticism and speed to counter this fact. The best way to utilize those skills is in pick & rolls, which is what Van Gundy did for his franchise center regularity against the Celtics in their last showdown during the regular season. If Van Gundy can involve Howard in pick & rolls consistently, he should thrive on offense.
This is an example of what the Magic shouldn't do (via the X's and O's of Basketball). Notice that Howard is used in pick & rolls sometimes but he isn't involved - meaning the play isn't designed specifically for him.
After the jump, nine more keys to an Orlando victory.
Get Dribble Penetration - One of the best ways to break down Boston's defense is by spreading the floor and dribble penetrating to either distribute or shoot the ball. This strategy on offense is something the Magic had success with. The following is a great visual breakdown of this fact (via the X's and O's of Basketball).
Limit Ray Allen - With Courtney Lee out for the moment (which means Orlando's #1 ranked defense in the league takes a small hit), this matchup is going to hurt the Magic. How bad is dependent on how good Orlando can defend Ray Allen. Looking at the stats (via 82games), this is what's in store for the Magic defensively.
Notice some of the differences in the numbers. Playing alongside Dwight Howard helps Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick (makes sense) but look at the other stats. Redick struggles defensively with the rotation players, more so, than Pietrus.
There's no doubt that Redick is going to have a tough time keeping up with Allen (putting a body on him, running through screens, etc). Pietrus, however, is going to be important because he has the athleticism and size to guard Allen effectively, which is why they made him their big free-agent signee last summer.
Get Quality Minutes from Mickael Pietrus - Pietrus has had a disappointing campaign so far in his tenure with Orlando, but he can vindicate himself by coming up huge against Boston. Offensively, Pietrus is going to get the chances to contribute with Lee sidelined and the uncertainty behind what type of impact Redick will have against the Celtics.
Defensively, Pietrus is going to be an x-factor of sorts because of his ability to matchup defensively against Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. As mentioned before, Pietrus has the athleticism and size to guard Allen and also Pierce. There's little doubt that Hedo Turkoglu is going to have a rough go of it against Pierce on defense (a player who has bested Hedo in head-to-head matchups), which is why Pietrus will need to be ready and up to the task to guard Pierce when called upon. Did I mention Pietrus will need to be ready to guard Allen, too?
Push the Tempo - The Magic have to push the pace against the Celtics. Orlando was unable to do so against Philadelphia because that played to the strength of the Sixers. But against the C's, the Magic should run at every opportunity, for the basic reason that Boston is going to be tired from its grueling series versus Chicago.
This is an example of why it's imperative for Orlando to emphasize pace and tempo against a tired team (via the X's and O's of Basketball).
Get Production from Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu - Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference said it best when asked "which Orlando Magic player do you feel is most vital to the team's success during the playoffs" during 3QC's roundtable discussion, which took place a few weeks back:
Dwight Howard is the obvious choice, and as the Magic's best player he's naturally the cornerstone of everything that happens for Orlando in these playoffs. However, I think the play of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu might prove even more important to the Magic. While Howard's numbers are essentially the same no matter the outcome, there is a big gap between the performance of Lewis and Turkoglu in wins vs. their performance in losses. Simply put, when those two play well, the Magic win; when they don't, the team loses. So I think how far they go will depend a lot on the output of that duo.
In wins and in losses, these are the stats for Lewis and Turkoglu, respectively:
|Rashard Lewis||18.2 PPG||FG% (45.5%)||3P% (42.7%)|
|Hedo Turkoglu||17.1 PPG||FG% (42.3%)||3P% (36.9%)|
|Rashard Lewis||16.5 PPG||FG% (39.9%)||3P% (32.9%)|
|Hedo Turkoglu||16.0 PPG||FG% (38.5%)||3P% (32.0%)|
Don't Lose Track of Eddie House - Injuries to Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe have put a ton of pressure on the Celtics' starters to carry most of the workload. They've also shortened what was an already thin bench.
But if there is one reserve Orlando needs to account for, it's Eddie House. Look no further than last night to see the impact House can have for Boston in the team's series-clinching win over Chicago. Eddie accounted for 16 of the bench's 30 points, shooting 5-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from three-point range.
When he's on, House can fill it up from beyond the arc in a hurry and it's important that the Magic make sure that doesn't happen. If Orlando can limit House's productivity and force the likes of Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore, and Brian Scalabrine to step up and produce, the better off the Magic will be.
Get the Opposing Bigs in Foul Trouble - As mentioned already, with the Boston bench depleted (specifically, the frontline for the Celtics), Dwight Howard could be in for a field day if he is able to get Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins in foul trouble in each game. The last line of defense for the C's would be Mikki Moore, a lanky big man (6'11'', 220 lbs) who lacks the strength to contain Dwight Howard in the paint.
Force Turnovers - The Magic weren't adept to forcing turnovers during the regular season (26th in turnover %) but if the team is able to force the Celtics to cough it up, the better. Boston is 38-8 this season when turning the ball over 15 times or fewer. In Orlando's two wins over the C's in the regular season, the team forced 17 turnovers and 18 turnovers, respectively. In the Magic's losses against the Celtics, the team forced 11 turnovers in each game. Notice the trend?
Contain Rajon Rondo - When Rondo goes, so do the Celtics and with Kevin Garnett out, he has stepped up his game in a big and impressive way. Orlando should be able to do a better job of containing Rondo better than Chicago did for two reasons, Rafer Alston and Dwight Howard. First, Alston is a better defender than Derrick Rose:
|Rafer Alston||Derrick Rose|
|adj. defensive plus/minus||+0.86||+7.87|
|net defensive plus/minus||+0.8||+7.8|
Second, having Howard looming in the lane will discourage Rondo from entering the lane and wreak havoc in a variety of ways (passing, shooting, rebounding). If Orlando is able to deter Rondo from being able to drive and kick the ball, the team will be better off. If Orlando is able to force Rondo to settle for jumpers, the team will be better off. If Orlando is able to prevent Rondo from getting rebounds (especially on the offensive end), the team will be better off. I can go on but you get the idea.
If the Magic are able to execute a majority of these strategies with success against the Celtics, then the team will put itself in great position to advance further in the playoffs. The test for Orlando begins tomorrow at Boston in Game 1.