It's always a pleasure to chat Orlando Magic basketball with Eddy Rivera, and their upcoming Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Celtics gives me another chance to do just that. I've already visited MagicBasketball.net to answer his questions. Now, it's his turn at OPP.
Ben Q. Rock: What did you take away from Boston's defeat of the Cavaliers? What bearing does that series have on the one against the Magic?
Eddy Rivera: The main thing I took away, more than anything else, is that the Boston Celtics are playing like championship contenders after stumbling along during the regular season. I know that's a "no, duh" answer but it's worth pointing out. And I've said this several times on Twitter but I find it ironic that this year the Cleveland Cavaliers built their team to beat the Orlando Magic, yet lost to the Celtics. Last year for those that don't remember, the Cavaliers built their team to beat the Celtics, yet lost to the Magic. Go figure.
Boston's victory over Cleveland simply re-affirms that they're a legitimate threat to Orlando and should be respected. Winning a title is never easy and, in a way, I think it's great that the Magic will be tested against the Celtics, a team that won it all in 2008, is fully healthy right now, and will cause some matchup problems as they've had in the past. Orlando has the chance to beat a former champion in the postseason at full strength. If the Magic are as good as everyone believes them to be, they'll rise to the challenge.
BQR: Orlando has rolled through the playoffs so far, and has been rolling since March 1st, really. Nobody's expecting anything to come easily against the Celtics, though. As a team, what challenges does Boston present to the Magic?
ER: Most of the challenges will come on defense, in my opinion. A running theme in this matchup for the past few years is that the games have been low-scoring affairs. It's no secret that Orlando and Boston typically struggle to score against each other because each team has stout defenses. With that said, some things to look out for -- how will Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard fare on offense? Matching up against them will be Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, and Kendrick Perkins. Whew. To say things are going to be tough for the Magic is an understatement.
BQR: On the flip side, in which areas do you expect the Magic to exploit the Celtics?
ER: Howard has improved on the low block and has realized finesse is the way to have success against Perkins. If Howard posts up, that's what he'll need to do against Perkins (Wallace, too). On occasion, I think it would be wise to utilize Howard's speed and athleticism in pick and rolls. I can go on but I fully expect head coach Stan Van Gundy to empty out his playbook in this series against the Celtics (anticipate pick and roll variations up the wazoo). Even though Boston has played excellent defense in the playoffs, so far, Orlando just needs to continue doing what they do best ... play inside-out, drive-and-kick, etc.
BQR: Boston is one of the league's best defensive units, and loves to load the strong side of the floor, making life extra difficult for the opponent's perimeter playmakers. How do you see that tactic working against Orlando? Will Doc Rivers, and defensive guru assistant Tom Thibodeau, have to devise something different?
ER: I doubt head coach Doc Rivers and assistant coach Tom Thibodeau will do anything differently against the Magic from a defensive standpoint. The Celtics' defense has never been much of a problem. When Boston plays Orlando, it's been the reverse most of the time. As I alluded to earlier, the Celtics' offense usually has struggled to score enough points against the Magic to win games. In my opinion, one of the keys to Boston succeeding versus Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals is finding ways of scoring with the basketball. If the Celtics can do that, they're more than capable of winning the series.
BQR: What is your prediction for this series?
ER: Magic in 7. I have a feeling this series is going to be a slugfest.