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Why the Orlando Magic will beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA East Conference final

Most figured the Orlando Magic would be in the NBA's Eastern Conference final. What's surprising is the opponent. It won't be LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Boston Celtics. No matter. We predicted the Magic would return to the NBA Finals for the second straight season anyway. With the conference final starting this afternoon in Orlando, here are 10 reasons the Magic will beat the Celtics. (See more NBA previews on Page 3C.)

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The Magic beat the Celtics last year

Last season's second-round playoff series between the teams was a strange one. The Celtics won once in Orlando, prompting Magic star Dwight Howard to throw coach Stan Van Gundy under the bus. The Magic won twice in Boston, including Game 7, and no team is supposed to win a Game 7 in Boston. True, Celtics big man Kevin Garnett didn't play in the series because of injury, but neither did Magic guard Jameer Nelson. So, as we put on our inductive reasoning caps, because the Magic beat the Celtics last year and the old Celtics are another year older and the Magic is better, the Magic should win again this year.

The Magic is hot

Orlando has won 28 of its past 31 games, including 14 in a row, and has lost only eight times since Jan. 20. It took the minimum eight games to sweep through Charlotte and Atlanta in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Okay, so the Bobcats weren't exactly the Michael Jordan Bulls, but the Hawks won 53 games and the Magic bulldozed them, winning by 43, 14, 30 and 14 points. By doing so, the Magic became the third team since 2003 (when the first round was expanded to a best-of-seven series) to sweep through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But that is not necessarily a good-luck charm. The other two teams — the 2005 Heat and the 2009 Cavaliers — were eliminated in the conference final.

The Magic dominated the season series

Orlando won three of its four games against Boston during the regular season. The Celtics' lone victory came without Paul Pierce on Christmas Day, when Boston held Dwight Howard to a mere five points in an 86-77 victory in Orlando. The Magic won the other three meetings 83-78 and 96-89 in Boston and 96-94 in Orlando. When they beat the Magic on Christmas Day, the Celtics were 23-5. They went 27-27 the rest of the regular season.

The Magic is playing great defense

Everyone talks about how well the Celtics play defense, and for good reason. Boston made Cleveland's LeBron James look somewhat ordinary in the last round, and during this postseason, the Celtics have allowed opponents an average of 92.4 points per game. But do you know which team is playing the best defense in the postseason? The Magic, which allowed an average 83.8 points per game in the first two rounds. Teams are shooting 40.8 percent from the field against Orlando in the playoffs. And as great as Boston's Kevin Garnett is on defense, perhaps now is a good time to remind everyone that Orlando's Dwight Howard is the league's reigning two-time defensive player of the year.

The Magic has homecourt advantage

When you break it down, the teams are evenly matched. There's not much difference between the point guards (Orlando's Jameer Nelson and Boston's Rajon Rondo), shooting guards (Orlando's Vince Carter and Boston's Ray Allen) and big men (Orlando's Dwight Howard and Boston's Kevin Garnett). The benches and coaches are even. The series might come down to homecourt advantage, and Game 7, if needed, would be in Orlando, where the Magic is 38-7, 4-0 in the postseason. The Celtics were a mediocre 24-17 at home and 26-15 on the road during the regular season.

Dwight Howard is the best player in the series

Actually, Howard has struggled against the Celtics and Boston center Kendrick Perkins. He shot 54 percent from the floor in last year's second-round playoff series between the teams. He shot 47 percent in four games against Boston during the regular season, his third-worst percentage against an opponent. But most of that poor shooting came in a 1 for 7 effort on Christmas Day. In the two most recent meetings, Howard went 12-for-21 from the floor. In these playoffs, Superman is a stunning 40-of-59 from the field. If you're picking a team from the rosters of the Magic and Celtics, Howard would be your first choice.

The Magic is balanced

Boston took out Cleveland in the second round this year primarily because it threw a blanket over LeBron James. Though Dwight Howard is the Magic's dominant player, Orlando is far from a one-man team. Howard isn't even leading the Magic in scoring in the postseason. Point guard Jameer Nelson is averaging 20.5 points per game. Howard is averaging 15.4 points, to go with 11.3 rebounds. In all, five Magic players are averaging in double figures in points in these playoffs.

The Magic is hungry

Dwight Howard is looking for his first NBA title, as is the Magic franchise. Vince Carter, a 12-year NBA veteran, not only has never won a title, this is his first trip to a conference final. The Magic is playing with a chip on its shoulder. It finished with the NBA's second-best record during the regular season (59-23), yet coming into the postseason, almost no one outside of Magic fans was picking Orlando to reach the Finals. The Magic has the best record of any team still alive in the playoffs, yet few are picking Orlando to win it all now.

The schedule has and will favor the Magic

The Magic has played only eight games in the past 27 days since the playoffs started. Because of back-to-back sweeps, it has had to take only short round-trip flights to Charlotte and Atlanta. Meantime, Boston has played 11 games and had to take a long flight to Miami and two trips to Cleveland. The Celtics had just two days off after beating Cleveland, and those days included a travel day to Orlando. This series has a three-day break between Games 2 and 3, but Games 3-7 are scheduled every other day over nine days. Assuming there won't be a sweep, that schedule has to favor the much younger and better-rested Magic than a Celtics team that includes 32-year-old Paul Pierce, 33-year-old Kevin Garnett, 34-year-old Ray Allen and 35-year-old Rasheed Wallace.

The Magic can beat you any way you want

With Dwight Howard in the middle, the Magic can win games simply by feeding the big man inside. But if he's covered, the Magic can kill with outside shooting, and Howard, the consummate team player, doesn't hesitate to kick the ball outside. And why would he? Led by Rashard Lewis, the Magic made 44 3-pointers in the last round against Atlanta. That's the second-highest total for a playoff series, and that series lasted only four games. Which team has the record for 3s in a series? Uh, Orlando, with 45 in the first round of this year's playoffs. And that, too, came in four games.

Season stats Average points per game Field-goal percentage Three-point percentage Free-throw percentage Assists per game
Magic 102.75 95.26 +7.48 47.0 43.8 37.5 36.3 72.4 75.4 19.69 18.90 +0.79
Celtics 99.22 95.56 +3.65 48.3 45.1 34.8 34.2 74.6 74.6 23.53 19.32 +4.20
Season stats Average points per game Field-goal percentage Three-point percentage Free-throw percentage Assists per game
Magic 102.75 95.26 +7.48 47.0 43.8 37.5 36.3 72.4 75.4 19.69 18.90 +0.79
Celtics 99.22 95.56 +3.65 48.3 45.1 34.8 34.2 74.6 74.6 23.53 19.32 +4.20

Why the Orlando Magic will beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA East Conference final 05/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010 9:16am]
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