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Magic vs. Celtics preview: In need of a win, it’s next man up for Orlando (again)

Orlando will be short-handed once again, playing without two starters today against the Boston Celtics

NBA: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Things are starting to pile on for the Orlando Magic inside the NBA “bubble”.

After racing out of the gates to a 2-0 start in seeding play, the Magic have now dropped three straight games. Even worse than the losses is the fact that Orlando has lost key contributors in the last week to varying injuries.

Of course, the big blow came in the fourth quarter of Orlando’s second game when forward Jonathan Isaac suffered an ACL injury to his left knee. Isaac has surgery earlier this week and now faces a lengthy recovery process.

Orlando reserve guard Michael-Carter Williams suffered an injury to his left foot during Orlando’s third seeding game. The injury (strained tendon) is not deemed to be serious, but it has caused Carter-Williams to miss three straight games.

Things really started to get bleak this past Wednesday when starting forward Aaron Gordon was fouled (in mid-air) by Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry as he was attempting a dunk. Gordon landed awkwardly and left the game a couple possessions following the flagrant-foul. The Magic are calling Gordon’s injury a “strained left hamstring”. Gordon will be missing his second-straight game today against the Celtics, and it’s unclear at this point when he will be available again (injury isn’t considered season-ending, he’s day-to-day).

And now adding insult to injury, it was announced that starting guard Evan Fournier will miss Sunday’s game against the Celtics due to illness. The team made it clear that Fournier is sick, but the guard’s illness is “non-COVID-19” related.

So the show will go on for the Magic against Boston now down two starters. The Celtics (46-23) are 3-2 in five games inside the NBA’s “bubble”. Boston currently trails Toronto, who they defeated 122-100 in their last game, by three and a half games for the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics, who lead the Miami Heat by 3.5 games in the standings, will likely be the three seed in the Eastern Conference when the playoffs start in a couple weeks.

Such is the case with many of the top teams in the NBA Orlando has played this season, the Magic have not enjoyed much success against the Celtics in ’20. The Magic fell at home against the Celtics in late January (109-98), and then dropped a game in Boston in early February (116-100). Coming into play Sunday, Boston boasts both a top-five offense (fourth in the league in Offensive Rating) and a top-five defense (fourth in the league in Defensive Rating).

On the bright side, the Magic did clinch their second consecutive playoff berth Friday night after a Washington Wizards loss officially eliminated them from possibly forcing a play-in situation with either Orlando or Brooklyn. Now the only thing still left to be determined during seeding play is whether Orlando will finish as the seventh or eighth seed.

Orlando plays Brooklyn on Tuesday; to pass the Nets, the Magic will have to win that game AND pick-up another game on Brooklyn either Sunday (by beating the Celtics and Nets losing to Clippers) or Thursday (by beating the Pelicans and Nets losing to Trail Blazers).

Who has to play well for the Magic?

Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross

As previously mentioned, the Magic will be taking on the Celtics without Fournier and Gordon, Orlando’s top-two scorers this season against Boston (Fournier averaged 28.0 points in two games, Gordon averaged 17.5 points).

In their absence, Orlando will likely run a majority of their offense through Vucevic (at least early in the game). Vucevic has been up to the task in Orlando’s five seeding games at Disney (20.2 points, 9.8 rebounds), but he’s also suffered through his fair share of struggles against the Celtics this season (37 percent from the floor, 25 percent from beyond the arc in two games).

With Fournier out, it remains to be seen if Ross ends up starting against Boston. Knowing that Coach Clifford likes to keep his core players in their usual roles, there’s a good chance Ross continues to come off the bench. Either way, Orlando’s sixth man can expect increased minutes (and shots) Sunday. Ross struggled mightily in Orlando’s game against Philadelphia on Friday, missing all ten of his field goal attempts (0-10 FGA’s, 0-4 3PTA’s).

Who does Orlando need to slow down?

Kemba Walker

Walker missed the game against Orlando in February, but he torched the Magic in Orlando to the tune of 37 points (6-12 3PTA’s), 6 assists, and 4 steals. The 30 year-old All-Star guard has averaged 21.4 points and 6.3 assists in 32 career games against Orlando.

Walker has played in four of Boston’s five seeding games so far inside the bubble. He’s yet to have a game where he’s gone crazy, but the Celtics are also being cautious with Walker (has yet to play 30 minutes in a contest).

The Magic must stay connected to Walker and keep him under control if they want to have a chance Sunday. Of course, the short-handed Magic will also have to try and slow down All-Star Jayson Tatum, guard Jaylen Brown, and forward Gordon Hayward.

No easy task - it’s safe to say the Orlando Magic will have all they can handle (and more) in front of them late Sunday afternoon.

Who: Boston Celtics (46-23) vs. Orlando Magic (32-38)
When: Sunday, August 9th, 5:00 PM EST
Where: Walt Disney World (Wide World of Sports Complex), Lake Buena Vista, FL
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Line: Boston -9, O/U: 220
Injuries: Boston - None; Orlando - Aminu (OUT, knee), Carter-Williams (OUT, foot), Fournier (OUT, non-COVID illness), Gordon (OUT, hamstring), Isaac (OUT, knee)