Magic bring along some big concerns
Six feet 10 inches. Six feet 11 inches. Six feet 10 inches.
No, that's not the depth chart at center for the Orlando Magic. Rather, those are the heights of the tallest and most challenging starting front line in the NBA - forward Rashard Lewis, center Dwight Howard, and forward Hedo Turkoglu. With the Celtics thin up front because of the loss of Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe to knee injuries, they will have to figure out a way to slow the Magic's giant front line if they hope to win this playoff series and return to the Eastern Conference finals.
"They're a tough matchup at the [forward spots]," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That's the toughest matchup for us. That Howard guy's pretty good, too, obviously."
The Celtics' biggest concern beginning with tonight's Game 1 at the Garden, is Howard, an All-Star who arguably is the NBA's most dominating center.
The 6-11, 265-pounder averaged 20.7 points, an NBA-best 13.9 rebounds, and a league-best 2.9 blocks per game during the regular season. He was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The 2008 slam dunk champion is also an alley-oop and dunk waiting to happen. Howard averaged 16.8 points and 15.5 rebounds in four games against Boston this season.
"Defensive Player of the Year, 20 [-point], 15 [-rebound] guy," Celtics center Kendrick Perkins said. "I've just got my hands full. There's nothing else I can say. I've just got to bring it every night. I've just got to go out there.
"I can't put too much pressure on myself. I've just got to go out there and play team defense."
Without Garnett and Powe, there will be a lot of pressure on Perkins not only to guard Howard but to stay out of foul trouble. With 6-9 power forward Glen Davis starting for Boston, the only defensive options off the bench are 6-9 Brian Scalabrine and 7-footer Mikki Moore. Perkins averaged 9.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 3.5 fouls with no disqualifications in 30:19 in four games vs. Orlando.
"Trying to keep Perk out of foul trouble this series is going to be tough, too," Rivers said. "If he does [foul out], where do you go? That's the tough part."
Said Paul Pierce, "You've got Dwight Howard, such a physical presence in the middle. He's somebody you've always got to deal with for seven games, or how many games it's going to be."
Davis believes keys to defending Howard include being physical and fighting to keep him between you and the basket.
"Don't let him get any dunks," Davis said. "He gets frustrated. Elbows might get out. Stay focused on keeping yourself between him and the rim. If you give him an edge, he'll dunk it. You just have to know the procedure."
While much is made about Howard, Lewis (also an All-Star) and Turkoglu gave the Celtics more fits offensively during the regular season.
Lewis averaged a team-best 21.5 points and made 8 of 24 3-pointers in the four games. He scored 30 points during Orlando's 107-88 loss in Boston Dec. 1. And after Lewis scored 21 points and nailed four 3-pointers in host Orlando's 84-82 win in the last meeting March 25, Garnett saluted Lewis.
"Playing against Rashard Lewis, who is one of the premier players in this league, it puts pressure on me [with him] doing the things that he does," Garnett said. "No disrespect to anyone I've played previous, but this is a high caliber of player."
With Garnett out, Davis knows he's got his work cut out for him chasing the 6-10, 230-pound Lewis around screens as he tries to get open for treys.
"[Lewis], that's who I had to guard every possession. Great. I love it. It's great. I can't wait. It's going to be a great series," Davis said.
Turkoglu is a 6-10 small forward who will be guarded mostly by Pierce. The Turkish sharpshooter averaged 17.5 points and nailed 10 of 26 3-pointers against the Celtics in the regular season. But Turkoglu also will have the challenge of guarding Pierce, who averaged 23.3 points vs. Orlando in 2008-09. That could lead to fatigue and fouls.
One Eastern Conference advance scout described the Magic as a finesse team with four shooters surrounding Howard. He added that Turkoglu and Lewis rarely post up and often leave the lane to Howard. The scout added that the Celtics could have success by single covering Howard and not leaving the perimeter shooters open.
"To me, the key to beating Orlando is keeping them off the glass," the scout said. "Dwight leads the league in rebounding, but, as a team, they're one of the worst in the league. If Dwight isn't getting the rebounds, you can, because Rashard and Hedo aren't physical. Don't double-team [Howard]. That's why they don't run plays for him. They get on [coach] Stan Van Gundy because he has no plays for Dwight, but he gets scoring off the fast break, rebounds, and slashing down the lane. But he's not dominant in the post like Moses Malone.
"Orlando has 3-point shooters at four positions. Stay with Rashard and Hedo at all times. Dwight can get 25, but he's not going to get 30 that often. He'll get his makes and get to the foul line, but don't let them shoot threes."
Pierce and the Celtics respect the Magic. But the champs are confident they will figure out a way to get past their latest big challenge - 6-10, 6-11, and 6-10.
"It's going to be tough," Pierce said. "So definitely we've got our work cut out for us. But, hey, you know, we still are the champs until someone knocks us off."
Said Rivers: "It's brutally tough, especially with the lack of [bigs]. But we'll figure out something. We've got home court. We feel great. But we have to figure out something."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org