Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers faces a tough challenge in finding ways to limit Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, especially with Kendrick Perkins, his best low-post defender, unavailable. "I always prefer that [matchup] when we can get it," Rivers said outside visitors' locker room prior to the Celtics' game against the Magic. "That's the biggest concern for us going into this game is us to let Dwight to get loose."
But Boston is well stocked with strong, intelligent defenders to keep Howard in check, even in Perkins' absence, starting with free-agent pickups Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal. "That's a tough matchup for Shaq, because of Dwight's quickness," Rivers said. He pointed out that Shaq's "size" could help him "keep [Howard] away from the bucket."
Another concern for Rivers is Jermaine O'Neal's health. The 14-year veteran hasn't played since November 8th due to a sore left knee. He will play today, but Rivers said "I honestly have no idea" when asked what he expects from O'Neal, noting that the center's "conditioning" is more of a concern than his knee. Despite those issues, Rivers must roll with O'Neal this afternoon: "We got to play him tonight. We have no choice."
Keeping Howard in line will go a long way toward ensuring Boston picks up its 15th straight win. He's averaging a career-best 22 points per game this season. In the final three games of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, Howard shredded the Celtics with averages of 27 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Orlando went 2-1 in those contests.